Data & Civil Rights: Consumer Finance Primer
Data & Civil Rights Conference, October 2014
8 Pages Posted: 24 Dec 2014
Date Written: October 30, 2014
Title VIII (the Fair Housing Act) of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was the first federal legislation to prohibit institutions from considering some protected class information, like religion, in underwriting consumer mortgages. This prohibition extended to include additional protected class categories, and to apply to other types of consumer credit transactions into the 1970s. However, other characteristics that identify a particular demographic group, like address, in lieu of protected class information can still become unintentional proxies for protected status. New data analytics tools, predictive technologies, and an increasingly available range of data sources have enabled new financial instruments and services to be developed, but access to high- quality services remains restricted, often along racial and socio-economic class lines. How data is used and how algorithms and scores are designed have the potential to minimize or maximize discrimination and inequity. Yet, because of the complexity of many of these systems, developing mechanisms of oversight and accountability is extremely challenging. Not only is there little transparency for those being assessed, but the very nature of the new types of algorithms being designed makes it difficult for those with technical acumen to truly understand what is unfolding and why. This raises significant questions for those invested in making certain that finance and pricing are fair.
Keywords: predictive algorithms, finance, fair housing, oversight, accountability, credit-scoring, discrimination
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