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The Danger in Trusting Online Translation Tools and Apps

February 14, 2018

translation privacy policyGoogle Translate says more than 500 million people use its free online translation service — to the tune of 100 billion words each day. However, what many people don’t realize is just how public — and searchable — online translations can be. Don DePalma of Common Sense Advisory (CSA Research) puts it simply: “Both your employees and your suppliers are unconsciously conspiring to broadcast your confidential information, trade secrets, and intellectual property to the world.” And, says DePalma, about 62% of employees estimate that their colleagues use online translators for business materials. Without a Security and Confidentiality policy in place, this kind of behavior is extremely risky.

The Translate.com problem

In September 2017, a massive data breach at Translate.com was exposed by NRK, a Norwegian news agency. It’s a troubling story for anyone using online and app translators. Employees at state-run oil company Statoil discovered that text translated at the Translate.com site “could be found by anyone conducting a search,” according to NRK. Tekna (The Norwegian Society of Graduate Technical and Scientific Professionals) performed a handful of simple Google searches to assess the scope of the problem, and they were stunned by the results: “When we sat down and googled we just thought: ‘Wow! What is this?’ This was information from organizations, private companies, government agencies.”

Among the search hits were “notices of dismissal, plans of workforce reductions and outsourcing, passwords, code information and contracts.” Slator performed their own Google searches and found a jaw-dropping amount of information freely available, including “a physician’s email exchange with a global pharmaceutical company on tax matters, late payment notices, a staff performance report of a global investment bank, and termination letters. In all instances, full names, emails, phone numbers, and other highly sensitive data were revealed.” Alarmed about the impact of such sensitive information being so readily accessible, the Oslo Stock Exchange blocked access to Translate.com and Google Translate as well.

According to Slator, Translate.com responded to the crisis in a blog post (which has now been taken down) saying, “There was a clear note on our homepage stating: ‘All translations will be sent to our community to improve accuracy’ and that ‘some of these requests were indexed by search engines such as Google and Microsoft at that time.’” The company further suggested that users with privacy concerns could email Translate.com and request the removal of specific items of content from the company’s servers.

Are other online translators and apps safe?

While Translate.com has garnered all the headlines, the confidentiality of translated content is a far wider concern than simply this one company. Though few of us ever read a company’s terms of use, both Google Translate and Microsoft Translator, by way of example, say in their legal notices that the use of their services entitles the company to, as Microsoft puts it, “copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate and reformat your Submission.“ Google’s terms are much the same, with an added caveat that users should, “Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.” Do a company’s employees really possess such rights?

There are plenty of other online translation services, and dozens of translation apps. A quick survey of online services finds few mentions of data security, leaving potential users to either make a guess or abandon any concern regarding confidentiality. Clearly, using a free online translator carries with it a real element of danger.

Translation without the risk

The solution, then, is to avoid the temptation of using online translators and cloud-connected translation apps, and to ensure that everyone at your company understands and respects your commitment to security. When you value the confidentiality of your information — not to mention the quality of your translations — best practice is to have your translations done only by an LSP with ISO 9001:2008 certification and the ability to provide you with rock solid confidence that your materials are truly well-protected.

At Morningside, we have a Privacy Policy in place and regularly handle highly confidential materials. We work with numerous law firms, patent firms and large companies that can’t afford to take any risks when it comes to safeguarding their intellectual property. Security is an integral part of our processes. From utilizing secure encrypted emails to destroying local copies once a project is completed, we take proactive steps to ensure that your documents are protected.