Much has been written on the subject of free online language translation software such as Google Translate and the poor quality these systems usually deliver. Many companies choose this option to save a few hundred or possibly a few thousand dollars. The repercussions can be embarrassing and demonstrate a lack of commitment to international markets. This is regrettable, but fairly minor when compared to the very real possibility of inadvertently publishing sensitive, confidential or private information that could compromise a product release or invite a lawsuit.

How Can These Systems Publish Sensitive, Confidential or Private Information?

As our previous post Google Translate vs. Human:  The Pros & Cons for Your Business (Part 2) on this topic indicates, the answer is in the fine print that users either don’t read or don’t fully understand. Google states pretty clearly that any text entered into Google Translate can/will be used by Google to feed and improve its translation engine. By proxy, the text is suddenly in the public domain. This is true for other online translation systems, as well.

The security/confidentiality/privacy “breach” is actually not a breach at all, but entered on purpose by individuals and employees to get the gist of a document they can’t understand. They may not realize the sensitive nature of the text until they have pressed the enter key to receive the translated version of it. By then it’s too late. It is in the public domain and just about anybody has access to it.

The recent data leak at Statoil, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, demonstrates just how dangerous, even if inadvertent, using free online translation software can be. According to NRK, the Norwegian News Network, employees used online translation system to translate “notices of dismissal, plans of workforce reductions and outsourcing, passwords, code information, and contracts.”  This information is certainly not something most companies would want to make public. Some of these entries were ultimately indexed and accessible via Google. does say, in the fine print of their Terms and Conditions that they cannot guarantee that the information provided to them by users will not become public. It’s doubtful that many people bother to read the T&Cs thoroughly, if at all, before using such systems. For a lot of text it doesn’t matter, but imagine if someone accidentally reveals details of a new product release or new product features and a competitor reads about it in a Google search?  This suddenly becomes a very costly, if unintended, mistake. Are the risks really worth saving a few hundred dollars?

What Can You Do To Protect Yourself and Your Company?

Educate yourself and your employees of the potential risks.
Develop a company policy that provides clear instructions on what text can and can’t be entered into a free online translation system. This is a great step, however enforcement across all employees could prove difficult
Ban the use of free online translation systems altogether and route employees to a paid professional translation service that can demonstrate they have a secure system and strong non-disclosure agreements with their freelance translators and subcontractors
Insist on your company or your professional vendor using a closed translation system that prevents users from copying and pasting information out of the system. This could prove an expensive option internally. Professional translation companies regularly use such systems, but there are sometimes workarounds to allow translators to work outside the confines of these systems. Ask questions about how the translation vendor handles data so you know what security measures are in place.

What are My Options for Translating Business Materials?

In response to the newsbreak, has said they will remove the translations from the system by getting in touch with their support team. Potentially helpful, though the damage has already been done.

There are risks associated with translating any kind of sensitive information, but you will greatly reduce them by familiarizing yourself on how free translation systems work, what the fine print of their T&Cs actually say, deciding what measures make the most sense to have in place to minimize the probability of the wrong data becoming public and what, if any, recourse you have.

Turning to a paid professional translation agency that can help educate you and help you develop a more secure process for translation may well save you money rather than cost you.




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