Google’s initiative for more inclusive language in open source projects

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Certain terms in open source projects reinforce negative associations and unconscious biases. At Google, we want our language to be inclusive. The Google Open Source Programs Office (OSPO) created and posted a policy for new Google-run projects to remove the terms “slave,” “whitelist,” and “blacklist,” and replace them with more inclusive alternatives, such as “replica,” “allowlist,” and “blocklist.” OSPO required that new projects follow this policy beginning October 2020, and has plans to enforce these changes on more complex, established projects beginning in 2021. 

To ensure this policy was implemented in a timely manner, a small team within OSPO and Developer Relations orchestrated tool and policy updates and an open-source specific fix-it, a virtual event where Google engineers dedicate time to fixing a project. The fix-it focused on existing projects and non-breaking changes, but also served as a reminder that inclusivity is an important part of our daily work. Now that the original fix-it is over, the policy remains and the projects continue.

For more information on why inclusive language matters to us, you can check out Google Developer Documentation Style Guide which contains a section on word-choice with useful, clearer alternatives. Regardless of the phrases used, it is necessary to understand that certain terms reinforce biases and that replacing them is a positive step, both in creating a more welcoming atmosphere for everyone and in being more technically accurate. In short, words matter.

By Erin Balabanian, Open Source Compliance.