New York City proposes regulating algorithms used in hiring

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In 1964, the Civil Rights Act barred the humans who made hiring decisions from discriminating on the basis of sex or race. Now, software often contributes to those hiring decisions, helping managers screen résumés or interpret video interviews.

That worries some tech experts and civil rights groups, who cite evidence that algorithms can replicate or magnify biases shown by people. In 2018, Reuters reported that Amazon scrapped a tool that filtered résumés based on past hiring patterns because it discriminated against women.

Legislation proposed in the New York City Council seeks to update hiring discrimination rules for the age of algorithms. The bill would require companies to disclose to candidates when they have been assessed with the help of software. Companies that sell such tools would have to perform annual audits to check that their people-sorting tech doesn’t discriminate.

The proposal is a part of a recent movement at all levels of government to place legal constraints on algorithms and software that shape life-changing decisions—one that may shift into new gear when Democrats take control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

More than a dozen US cities have banned government use of face recognition, and New York state recently passed a two-year moratorium on the technology’s use in schools. Some federal lawmakers have proposed legislation to regulate face algorithms and automated decision tools used by corporations, including for hiring. In December, 10 senators asked the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to police bias in AI hiring tools, saying they feared the technology could deepen racial disparities in employment and hurt economic recovery from COVID-19 in marginalized communities. Also last year, a new law took effect in Illinois requiring consent before using video analysis on job candidates; a similar Maryland law restricts use of face analysis technology in hiring.


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