Protecting Identity and Preventing Gender Bias

VendorSwag is a platform for connecting people with vendors, but potentially in an anonymous way. This makes us a middle man that must simultaneously protect our client‘s identity while allowing vendors to freely communicate with them. A simultaneous problem that arose while evaluating the first requirement was that of gender and gender bias in communication. We wanted to build a platform that was sensitive to gender and made efforts to eliminate gender bias.


The VendorSwag platform had 3 challenges to solve on the subject of Gender:

  • Ensuring we reflected a wide gamut of Gender identities
  • Incorporating appropriate pronouns and honorifics
  • Providing a list of appropriate pseudonyms which respect Gender identity

Gender identities are very personal and it’s important that you allow people to express their identity in the way they prefer. We chose a React component that offered a very flexible way to offer gender choices.

Honorifics (Mr., Dr., etc) and pronouns need to offer a range of choices that reflect what a person identifies by. We researched pronouns to find the most inclusive list and represented that in the following (JSON) format:

      "set": {
        "object": "them",
        "subject": "they",
        "reflexive": "themself",
        "possessive": "their",
        "possessive_pronoun": "theirs"


We had 2 simultaneous problems to solve with pseudonyms: How do we allow users to identify themselves in a personalized way without revealing their identity?

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is a school of intelligence gathering from public sources to find details about a person. This could be a house number from a photograph on Facebook to a short URL identifier, or even the box of an email address. People reliably put identifying information in the pseudonyms, such as birth year, and they will often use the same pseudonym across multiple platforms, making it easy to correlate seemingly unrelated sources of data.

There is another issue to consider with pseudonyms: appropriateness and moderation. If you have to moderate every pseudonym for what is deemed business appropriate nomenclature, you will spend a lot of time moderating. There is a cross section of people that will take things like usernames and pseudonyms to an extreme because they find it amusing, we needed to prevent that.

Simultaneous to business appropriate we wanted to ensure that when a client communicated with a vendor, their pseudonym reflected their chosen identity, without telegraphing their gender identity to the vendor.

The solution to this is remarkably simply and clever at the same time: We offer clients an extensive list of gender neutral pseudonyms from a pick list.

We scoured the Internet for gender neutral names in many languages and compiled a list of 920 names in 25 different languages. We then eliminated names that had contextual spellings, such as “Aaron” and “Erin”, to prevent telegraphing of gender.


Offering a large selection of gender neutral pseudonyms eliminates gender bias and allows us to have pseudonyms that are business appropriate to facilitate communication between clients and vendors. I am not aware of any other platform, marketing centric or otherwise, that takes all of these considerations into account. I feel the choice to incorporate these solutions into our platform from the beginning was important in the current social era. These choices were made in 2020, well before the present political debates and battles over gender affirming care and other gender related discussions.

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