Preference-Informed Fairness

Authors Michael P. Kim, Aleksandra Korolova, Guy N. Rothblum, Gal Yona

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Author Details

Michael P. Kim
  • Stanford University, CA, USA
Aleksandra Korolova
  • University of Southern California, CA, USA
Guy N. Rothblum
  • Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel
Gal Yona
  • Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel


This work grew out of conversations during the semester on Societal Concerns in Algorithms and Data Analysis (SCADA) hosted at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The authors thank Omer Reingold for helpful conversations, which influenced our understanding and the presentation of the work.

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Michael P. Kim, Aleksandra Korolova, Guy N. Rothblum, and Gal Yona. Preference-Informed Fairness. In 11th Innovations in Theoretical Computer Science Conference (ITCS 2020). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 151, pp. 16:1-16:23, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2020)


In this work, we study notions of fairness in decision-making systems when individuals have diverse preferences over the possible outcomes of the decisions. Our starting point is the seminal work of Dwork et al. [ITCS 2012] which introduced a notion of individual fairness (IF): given a task-specific similarity metric, every pair of individuals who are similarly qualified according to the metric should receive similar outcomes. We show that when individuals have diverse preferences over outcomes, requiring IF may unintentionally lead to less-preferred outcomes for the very individuals that IF aims to protect (e.g. a protected minority group). A natural alternative to IF is the classic notion of fair division, envy-freeness (EF): no individual should prefer another individual’s outcome over their own. Although EF allows for solutions where all individuals receive a highly-preferred outcome, EF may also be overly-restrictive for the decision-maker. For instance, if many individuals agree on the best outcome, then if any individual receives this outcome, they all must receive it, regardless of each individual’s underlying qualifications for the outcome. We introduce and study a new notion of preference-informed individual fairness (PIIF) that is a relaxation of both individual fairness and envy-freeness. At a high-level, PIIF requires that outcomes satisfy IF-style constraints, but allows for deviations provided they are in line with individuals' preferences. We show that PIIF can permit outcomes that are more favorable to individuals than any IF solution, while providing considerably more flexibility to the decision-maker than EF. In addition, we show how to efficiently optimize any convex objective over the outcomes subject to PIIF for a rich class of individual preferences. Finally, we demonstrate the broad applicability of the PIIF framework by extending our definitions and algorithms to the multiple-task targeted advertising setting introduced by Dwork and Ilvento [ITCS 2019].

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ACM Subject Classification
  • Theory of computation → Theory and algorithms for application domains
  • algorithmic fairness


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