Hello World

By Julia Angwin

Happy Holidays from The Markup

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Dispatches from our founder
This Week
Hello, friends,
Somehow 2021 feels like the longest year. We couldn’t break free of the pandemic. We couldn’t put the U.S. presidential election behind us. And we couldn’t tame the unruly supply chain. 
But our scrappy nonprofit newsroom managed to overcome these and many other obstacles to produce an incredible array of meaningful journalism in our second year of publication. 
We kicked off the year on Jan. 5 by examining partisan Facebook news feeds—the first of many stories from our Citizen Browser project—and we are wrapping up the year with an in-depth analysis of how PredPol, a criminal prediction software program, perpetuates policing bias and the revelation that family safety app Life360 is selling raw user data to any number of third parties. 
Our work isn’t designed to get clicks but to make an impact on the world. And that’s how we define success. Did we hold powerful institutions accountable for their decisions? Did our investigations help policymakers and individuals make better choices? Did data that we collected give individuals or lawmakers the evidence they needed to create change?
And so, in the spirit of offering a bit of optimism and agency, we proudly share a few of the ways that our journalism made a difference in 2021:
  • The U.S. Department of Justice, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other agencies announced a new initiative to combat discriminatory mortgage lending practices. They cited our investigation into home loan application approval rates as evidence of a nationwide problem. Shortly afterward, legislators and regulators from multiple states called for increased scrutiny of the industry.
  • The House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law introduced The American Choice and Innovation Online Act to prohibit certain large tech platforms from favoring their own products and services on their platforms (including in search results), citing The Markup’s Google the Giant investigation.
  • Members of Congress demanded that Amazon respond to our investigation about the giant online seller giving its private label brands a leg up. 
  • Our Locked Out investigation with The New York Times into the broad effects of tenant screening algorithms led to questions from senators throughout the year, culminating in a recommendation from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that the screening agencies correct the error-prone practice. The investigation was also cited by the Washington, D.C., attorney general in announcing a proposed bill that would require companies to audit their algorithms for discriminatory impacts.
  • Texas A&M University dropped “race” from its student risk algorithm after a Markup investigation revealed that Black students were being steered away from math and science majors because an algorithm predicted they had a higher risk of failure than White students.
  • Color of Change cited our investigation into YouTube ad placements when calling on the platform to perform an internal diversity audit. 
  • In a win for gig workers who answer to algorithms, following our report on a phishing scam targeting Postmates couriers, the company reimbursed couriers with the wages they’d lost to the scam.
  • Facebook pledged to remove credit card ads targeted by age—a violation of its own policies and, potentially, civil rights laws—after The Markup discovered companies were targeting financial services to specific age groups on the platform.
  • State regulators in Michigan used our 2020 investigation with Consumer Reports into Allstate’s insurance pricing models to sharply question the company’s models in their state. 
  • Etsy removed gun parts and accessories, including high-capacity magazines, from its online marketplace after being alerted to them by The Markup.  
  • The Nevada State Assembly introduced legislation to better protect Nevadans from third-party trackers after our Blacklight investigation into COVID-19 vaccine sites uncovered broad data collection happening nationwide. 
The impact of The Markup’s reporting will continue to grow as we uncover more ways that technology is affecting our lives, our communities, and our work. 
And we wouldn’t be able to do any of it without your support. Thank you for being a part of The Markup’s story in 2021. We can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.
This will be the last newsletter of the year. I’ll be back in your inboxes on Jan. 8. Have a happy and safe holiday and new year.
And as always, thanks for reading. 
Best,
Julia Angwin
Editor-in-Chief
The Markup
 
From The Markup
 
The Markup’s Work Cited in Effort to Outlaw Discriminatory Algorithms
The Shadows of Removed Posts Are Hiding in Plain Sight on Reddit
The Popular Family Safety App Life360 Is Selling Precise Location Data on Its Tens of Millions of Users
P.S. For more from Julia Angwin and Hello World, look here. To receive the latest from our Citizen Browser project, sign up here, and so you can keep up on all the news from The Markup, sign up here, and we’ll email you every time we publish about the ways powerful actors are using technology to change society, usually two to three times a week.
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