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JPMorgan removes terms 'master,' 'slave' from internal tech code and materials

JPMorgan Chase & Co is eliminating terms like “blacklist,” “master” and “slave” from its internal technology materials and code, as the company seeks to address racism, declared two sources with knowledge of the move.

The terms had appeared in some of the bank’s technology policies, standards and control procedures, as well in the programming code that runs some of its processes, one of the sources explained.

Other companies like Twitter Inc and GitHub Inc adopted similar changes, prompted by the renewed spotlight on racism after the brutal murder of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May, which triggered worldwide protests.

The logo of Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index listed company JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is seen in Los Angeles, California, United States. Image credit REUTERS, Lucy Nicholson

For those who don’t know, the phrases “master” and “slave” code or drive are used in some programming languages and computer hardware to describe one part of a device or process that controls another.

Specifically, “Blacklist” is used to describe items that are automatically denied, like a list of websites forbidden by a company’s cybersecurity division. “Whitelist” instead means the opposite - a list of items automatically approved.

Floyd’s murder has sparked a re-examination of words that might carry racial overtones. For instance, some realtors are no longer using the term “master bedroom,” and Universal Music Group’s Republic Records stopped using the word “urban” to describe music genres and internal departments or roles.

JPMorgan appears to be the first in the financial sector to remove most references to these racially problematic phrases. Image credit REUTERS

JPMorgan appears to be the first in the financial sector to remove most references to these racially problematic phrases, and the decision comes after the bank has announced it is taking steps further to promote Black professionals and anti-bias culture training for staff.

Columbia Business School programming professor Mattan Griffel explained how such terms have long been controversial and can be difficult to change now that are so eradicated.

The technology that underpins bank operations is often a spaghetti-like mess that results from merged companies, decades-old code and third-party systems, and any change can have cascading effects that are difficult to predict, Griffel warned.

Changing these terms within the bank’s code could take millions of dollars and months of work, Griffel advised.

“This is not a trivial” investment by the bank, Griffel pointed out. “This kind of language and terminology is so entrenched. It has to (change) and now is as good a time as any,” he concluded.

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