Understanding Unfairness in Fraud Detection through Model and Data Bias Interactions

José Pombal, André F. Cruz, João Bravo, Pedro Saleiro, Mário A. T. Figueiredo, Pedro Bizarro

Published at KDD 2022 - Machine Learning in Finance workshop

AI Research


In recent years, machine learning algorithms have become ubiquitous in a multitude of high-stakes decision-making applications. The unparalleled ability of machine learning algorithms to learn patterns from data also enables them to incorporate biases embedded within. A biased model can then make decisions that disproportionately harm certain groups in society – limiting their access to financial services, for example. The awareness of this problem has given rise to the field of Fair ML, which focuses on studying, measuring, and mitigating unfairness in algorithmic prediction, with respect to a set of protected groups (e.g., race or gender). However, the underlying causes for algorithmic unfairness still remain elusive, with researchers divided between blaming either the ML algorithms or the data they are trained on. In this work, we maintain that algorithmic unfairness stems from interactions between models and biases in the data, rather than from isolated contributions of either of them. To this end, we propose a taxonomy to characterize data bias and we study a set of hypotheses regarding the fairness-accuracy trade-offs that fairness-blind ML algorithms exhibit under different data bias settings. On our real-world account-opening fraud use case, we find that each setting entails specific trade-offs, affecting fairness in expected value and variance – the latter often going unnoticed. Moreover, we show how algorithms compare differently in terms of accuracy and fairness, depending on the biases affecting the data. Finally, we note that under specific data bias conditions, simple pre-processing interventions can successfully balance group-wise error rates, while the same techniques fail in more complex settings.

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