I have to give a lot of credit to Capital One for owning up to this, and in the process teaching me something about their debit cards I didn’t know before.
An African American passenger, checking in for an American Airlines flight at a kiosk in Charlotte, got hit with what they saw on their statement as an ‘African American service charge’ for their checked bags. It was an awkward coincidence involving data matching and good intentions.
What is an African American African service charge??!?!? pic.twitter.com/UmR0sBGLPT
— A Simp Named Slickback (@___seeryandavis) January 29, 2021
American Airlines says the charge was submitted properly and Mastercard is investigating. It didn’t seem like a single kiosk would have been programmed to identify an African American customer and identify their charge differently in any case.
Capital One has stepped forward to own the issue. They’ve “attempted to make contact with the customer to apologize” and shared that the issue was creating by coding on the side of one of their vendors,
Our investigation has shown that this technical issue is the result of a miscoding of a merchant’s name. It is entirely unrelated to any specific customer information.
At Capital One, we created a proprietary system that offers our customers greater details on all of their transactions. We do this in part by using technology that relies on an external database of business information.
We are actively investigating precisely where the technology misinterpreted the merchant data and we are correcting the issue.
Capital One tries to interpret what is sometimes confusing data that comes through with a transaction to help customers identify charges. They have a system in place with their debit cards that tries to translate abbreviations into a more complete description, and this uses a merchant list from an external vendor’s database.
I see vendor names all the time, or strings of characters with a charge, that I have to Google to figure out where they came from. Something like this can make charges clearer – most of the time. Or, there can be a vendor mismatch, like not seeing enough data come through on a transaction and matching an Americans charge to African American Services.
Capital One hadn’t been named in earlier coverage. They didn’t need to stick their neck up on this one. So I have a tremendous amount of respect for their reaching out to confirm that this wasn’t an American Airlines issue. It was a mistake on their end. And of course the mistake had nothing to do with the fact that the customer who noticed this is African American.
I didn’t realize Capital One had this feature, that it was limited to their debit cards and not currently set up with credit card statements, and they’re certainly going to revisit the programming to make sure the same thing doesn’t repeat. AI is great, of course, but like the human equivalent not yet perfect.