In short, my company is developing a management tool for managing SIM cards. One of the features of the tool is to block the SIM card if it's put into a disallowed device by device IMEI validation.

The feature for this was mocked up using the terms blacklist and whitelist. However, after a while someone raised the point that these terms could feel a bit controversial.

The advantage of using these terms is that they are clean and easily understandable, but then again if they could invoke any racial issues we don't want anything to do with them.

So far we've come up with these possible alternatives:

  • Blocked List
  • Unblocked List
  • Allowed List

And honestly, we're not very excited for any of these words.

Do you feel that these words are controversial? Are there better words we could use?

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    Naughty and Nice list? – Java Drinker Dec 8 '11 at 17:16
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    If this is to be used by technicians, you should stick with vernacular they're already used to (blacklist/whitelist). It won't be controversial to them. – webbiedave Dec 8 '11 at 18:57
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    I think it would be positively bizarre if blacklist were to be blacklisted on the grounds of being racist. – FumbleFingers Dec 8 '11 at 22:22
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    "Goodlist" and "ungoodlist" comes to mind; you can use "plusgoodlist" or doubleplusgoodlist" if you need more emphasis ;) – Piskvor Dec 9 '11 at 12:07
up vote 28 down vote accepted

Blacklist and whitelist are fine, I don't think they are in any way racist, unless you're actually using them for discrimination.

Wikipedia's IMEI entry repeatedly uses blacklist for blocking stolen phones.

Many mobile operators, such as Vodaphone, O2, T-Mobile and Orange, all use blacklist for exactly the same thing as your use.

Whitelist is also widely used by many other applications for adding known, safe things.

If you really, really must avoid these industry standard words, blocklist has the same meaning and is nearly a homonym. For the antonym, I've seen "safe senders list" for email, so I suggest safelist to succintly convey the required meaning.

  • So what @MetaEd and I suggested? – Pureferret Dec 8 '11 at 23:53
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    How 'about blocklist and alrightlist? Almost homophonic :D – Benjol Dec 9 '11 at 6:01
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    you make a very strong case. I'll definitely use this in today's discussion. thanks – AndroidHustle Dec 9 '11 at 8:22

'Whitelist' and 'blacklist', though they are very common usage, can sound somewhat strange nowadays because of, whatever the provenance, their connections with racially tinged words.

An alternative, which is based on current technology but not yet widespread is:

  • allow list
  • deny list

'Allow' and 'deny' are the labels used for some kinds security specification.

  • I believe my mind is made up, I don't think the potential harm for using blacklist and whitelist is big enough for finding alternatives. however, I don't have final say in the matter, so if we go with alternative terms these two you listed looked very good. Much better using 'allow' rather than 'allowed' – AndroidHustle Dec 9 '11 at 8:25
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    @AndroidHustle: there's a lot of controversy over changing language to follow cultural practices (in this case 'politically correct' or PC issues, some for some against). I'm just offering an alternative. Some PC things sound silly (eg 'herstory') and some sound very reasonable (deprecation of the n-word). But whatever it is, it is culture that is driving things. If some people start to point out that 'blacklist' sounds racist more and more (either through unintended associations, or through realization that it -is- a terribly racist thing), then it might turn out to be deprecated also. – Mitch Dec 9 '11 at 21:47
  • They only "sound strange" to [insulting term for a class of people lacking an important personal attribute]. Seriously. Soon we won't be able to say niggardly, denigrate, or Nigeria or use the terms black heart, black/white knight, blacken one's name, black market, and so on! This is so pathetic. It's strikingly similar to the mother who wanted to name her daughter (rhymes with Regina) Vagina. Utter ignorance is driving this. – ErikE May 23 '13 at 21:29
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    I teach college CS. I dread saying "blacklist" and "whitelist" during lecture as it always causes at least some uncomfortability. I also despise political-correctness; however think it prudent to bury this archaic usage of black/white. Block/Allow list it shall be. – rdtsc Nov 2 '15 at 2:08
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    Block list/Allow list has the added advantage of explaining the consequences of the lists, too. Good suggestion! – Johannes Brodwall Sep 7 at 12:07

Blocklist is a well known synonym for blacklist. For example, the Wikipedia article on blacklists can be looked up under blocklist. A major spam tracker, Spamhaus, uses the term.

As for whitelist, it's pretty much universal. That's the term Spamhaus uses, and there are no Wikipedia redirects from other terms (other than alternate spellings).

  • Then again I don't think we should use something other than blacklist in combination with whitelist. Then the underlying reasoning shines through a bit too much. I wouldn't be surprised if a common user query would be then why don't they use blacklist. the alternative words have to be good enough for the user never thinking in terms of black/white -list. – AndroidHustle Dec 9 '11 at 8:42
  • @Mitch If that's so, was the use of safelist influenced by this question and Pureferret's answer? – MetaEd Sep 7 at 14:51
  • @MetaEd 1) with the current 'crowdsourcing' tech where provenance is difficult to establish, it's possible. 2) Pureferret's comment that 'blak' and 'white' are inoffensive seems to suggest intent the opposite of the direction of the tweet. But at least, 'block' and 'safe' say what they mean which means they are easier to adopt. I'm never sure about 'white' list. – Mitch Sep 7 at 15:07

I think the words blacklist and whitelist are so pervasive as to be inoffensive. However if you would like to avoid them, I would suggest something like:

Safelist

As in 'the device is safe to be used with that SIM'. I'm not sure what you could use for the opposite though.

  • 2
    I think if I were to use an antonym for Safelist it would be blocklist, as per @MetaEd suggested – Pureferret Dec 8 '11 at 17:36
  • It does have a nice ring to it, thanks for the tip! – AndroidHustle Dec 9 '11 at 8:17

Why not stretch the well-known (at least in technology) acronym ACL? While the term commonly applies to controlling access for users and networking devices, there's no good reason it couldn't be used to describe other kinds of access control. Then the individual files that make up the ACL can be referred to as the include ACL and the exclude ACL.

  • +1 it's not a bad suggestion, and it differs from what anyone else has proposed. However I fear the connection is a little too vague, and that the acronym isn't prevalent enough to be understood by all.. But thanks any ways! – AndroidHustle Dec 9 '11 at 8:34

I wouldn't consider Black List or White List to be controversial because they are both widely acceptable phrases and are not derived from a racial context.

However, if you absolutely must play it safe, you could use the following pairs.

'Accepted' <-> 'Rejected'
'Go' <-> 'No Go'
'Yea' <-> 'Nay'
  • 1
    I don't think its credible to say they are not derived from a racial context because "black-white dualism" is descendant from western (i.e. European) culture. The Chinese Yin-Yang use black-white to represent complementary forces. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-and-white_dualism and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_or_Yang (although the first is not well cited). – David W Nov 17 '12 at 19:02
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    @DavidW, +1. Whether racially derived or not, if they reinforce such associations then its worth looking for terms with less baggage. IIUC, the derivation is analogous to "white-box" vs "black-box" in circuit analysis, which goes back to the relationship between words meaning dark/obscure/unknown and light/transparent/known in European languages. In circuit analysis a "black-box" is something you can't see inside, so "black-box analysis" is limited to looking at inputs and outputs while "white-box analysis" can include the internals of the circuit element. – Mike Samuel Aug 6 at 15:13

There are already numerous good suggestions, but because some possibilities like green-list and stop-list haven't been mentioned, I decided to list several additional possible pairs:

• pass/stop • go/stop • go/no • pro/con • yes/no • green/red • we/de • good/bad •

For example, “go/no” represents the pair of names, “go-list” and “no-list” (or “go list” and “no list” if you prefer to leave out the hyphens). Some pairs are better with hyphens, and some without.

  • Thanks for your suggestions! I argued this with my product owner (who was the one who wanted to change it in the first place) who finally decided to keep Black/white -list. I believe he's still sceptical about it though. And the feature hasn't been introduced to the product yet so the terms may come to change, I'll definitely discuss the ones you mentioned with him. thanks! – AndroidHustle Aug 16 '12 at 7:11

Perhaps open vs closed list.

A definition can be closed or open.

  • A number is a thing that can participate in arithmetic.
  • A number is an integer, complex, or real.

The first is open because we might discover new instances like octonions or surreals. The second is closed because, though infinite, it won't expand as our knowledge expands.

This can also apply to lists used for security decisions.

Maybe we need to define "cat" so we can limit access via a cat door. We could come up with open and closed definitions:

  • A cat is a quadruped with fur, whiskers, and retractable claws.
  • A cat is a member or descendent of a prehistoric population of proto-cats.

The first definition is open. We might discover a new planet with aliens that have four legs, fur, whiskers, and retractable claws which would then fit our definition.

If we build a cat-door based on the first definition, we grant access to undiscovered space cats before we know whether any have laser eyes.


The second is closed. Space cats would not meet this definition.


This distinction gets at why we care about "blacklist" vs "whitelist."

Closed lists are easier to reason about, so if we build a cat-door based on the second definition, we are not granting access to space invaders, and we can investigate how much work an evil genius would need to augment Earth cats with laser eyes.

protected by RegDwigнt Dec 9 '11 at 7:27

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