- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2020

The leadership at large social media and technology companies is aiming to use its influence to scrub terminology that associates “black” with any negative perception.

Google Vice President David Kleidenmacher decided to withdraw as a speaker from the “Black Hat USA 2020” conference for information security professionals and enthusiasts over his view that the words “black hat” are harmful.

Among information security professionals, the term black hat hacker refers to criminals who pursue financial or personal gain through malicious acts. White hat hackers are understood to be motivated by an ideology or moral good, and a grey hat hacker is a cyber intruder whose motivation is some combination of the two.

Mr. Kleidenmacher, a former senior vice president at BlackBerry, tweeted that he does not think the symbolism, which has roots in the heroes and villains of Western films, should have any utility in tech because of its unconscious bias.

“To reiterate — the need for language change has nothing to do with the origin of the term black hat in infosec,” Mr. Kleidenmacher tweeted on Saturday. “Those who focus on that are missing the point. Black hat / white hat and blacklist / whitelist perpetuate harmful associations of black=bad, white=good.”

Mr. Kleidenmacher wrote that his decision to quit the Black Hat conference was made by him and not Google, but others in tech leadership share his concerns.

Twitter announced last week that it would be changing its language to remove “blacklist” from its usage and replace it with “denylist.” Via the Twitter account for the company’s engineers, Twitter published a list of terms it wants to scrap internally and in its computer code over inclusivity concerns such as “whitelist,” “man hours” and “Grandfathered.”

“There is no switch we can flip to make these changes everywhere, at once,” the Twitter engineering account tweeted last week. “We will continue to iterate on this work and want to put in place processes and systems that will allow us to apply these changes at scale.”

The Twitter engineers’ account said the use of “blacklist” and other words deemed not inclusive at Twitter must be removed from more than just computer code and be prevented from usage in meetings, memos and conversations between employees.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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