Discrimination and Redlining in the Digital World

Today, the Internet and social media are critical tools for finding housing, employment, and other important life opportunities. Unfortunately, these tools often depend on algorithms that use race, sex, age, sexual orientation, disability status, and other protected categories to determine whether a person sees or is considered for an opportunity. By relying on demographic information, algorithms replicate and exacerbate discrimination and bias against people who are members of a protected class. 

 When, for example, a landlord advertises through Facebook, the landlord is able to target certain audiences and conversely exclude certain groups of individuals, including on the basis of a protected characteristic. Additional delivery-related algorithms further amplify and exacerbate the exclusion of the individuals not originally targeted to receive the advertisements. These practices mirror discrimination of the past and are referred to as “digital redlining.” The Washington Lawyers’ Committee filed a joint amicus brief on this exact issue in an effort to show digital redlining violates civil rights laws by discriminating against members of protected classes. Read the amicus here.

 Relatedly, in December 2021, Attorney General Karl Racine introduced a first-of-its-kind bill to hold companies accountable for algorithmic discrimination. This legislation would (1) ban the discriminatory use of protected traits in algorithms as related to life opportunities, (2) require companies to be transparent and audit their algorithms for discriminatory patters, and (3) provide a private right of action for violations of the bill. The Committee enthusiastically supports this bill and urges the DC Council to pass these critical protections for DC residents.  Read more about the bill here. 

 You can learn more about these issues by watching this video:

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