Smiles in Profiles: Improving Fairness and Efficiency Using Estimates of User Preferences in Online Marketplaces
Online platforms often face challenges being both fair (i.e., non-discriminatory) and efficient (i.e., maximizing revenue). Using computer vision algorithms and observational data from a microlending marketplace, we find that choices made by borrowers creating online profiles impact both of these objectives. We further support this conclusion with a web-based randomized survey experiment. In the experiment, we create profile images using Generative Adversarial Networks that differ in a specific feature and estimate it’s impact on lender demand. We then counterfactually evaluate alternative platform policies and identify particular approaches to influencing the changeable profile photo features that can ameliorate the fairness-efficiency tension.