Google has been on a mission to raise its standards of inclusivity and conscientiousness. It previously worked to improve its recommendations and autocompletes, and now it's improving its workspace products and services.
Google's new style guide will discourage users and programmers from unnecessarily using sexist, ableist or offensive language.
What this means in practice is that when you type 'policeman', for example, Google will ask you to change it to 'police officer', similarly 'chairman' will become 'chairperson' and 'man hours' will become 'person hours'. If you type "there are some crazy outliers in the data", you will be recommended to change it to "there are some baffling outliers in the data."
The new feature and style guide were introduced with Google's new feature Smart Canvas, a collaboration platform that helps users work together much more easily and effectively across the company's platforms — Docs, Sheets and Slides. The announcements were made by Javier Soltero, Google’s general manager and vice-president of Google Workspace, at the Google I/O conference. The company hopes to fight sexist bias within language by targeting the “generic masculine.”
Google’s internal style guide will also incorporate this update, encouraging developers to avoid using “unnecessarily gendered language” in their documentation. This is a welcome step, as a lot of what sort of language is used on a platform depends on what the platform itself is using and what the developers are using and permitting to be used.
The tech giant disclosed its intention to introduce other stylistic suggestions that help their cause of inclusivity. For example, it wishes to avoid passive voice or “offensive language.” There was, however, no clarity provided on what will be considered offensive.
Google had previously come under fire for offensive words and statements in its search autocomplete and suggestion options. In 2016, it fixed its autocomplete function after it was reported that the function was often making racist and offensive suggestions. Similarly in 2018, it rolled out an update that prevented its autocomplete feature on Gmail from proposing gender pronouns.
This is a welcome change because the world is primarily operating online now and it is important to understand that language and word choice matters. Hopefully, this change will help reinforce inclusivity.