The Dangers of Online Machine Translation

Data Privacy and Translation
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Data privacy and data security have become two increasingly hot topics in recent years. As technology grows rapidly in its scope and capabilities, it seems that everyone from Google to the government is keen to glean all they can from our personal data.

Hackers, too, are eager to get their hands on our data, whether it be personal account and credit card details or log-ins and passwords to company accounting systems. Indeed, company data is the holy grail for many of those who use the internet with nefarious purposes in mind.

This makes the recently revealed privacy breach at all the more alarming. In this case, hackers had no need to resort to phishing tactics or man-in-the-middle attacks in order to gain access to company data – the information was freely available on the internet for all to see.

The privacy scandal

The Norwegian news outlet NRK, first broke the story at the start of this month, when it reported on private information uncovered online by employees of the state-run oil giant Statoil. The text had been typed into machine translation site for conversion to other languages. It had then become freely available to anyone conducting a Google search.

At first glance, this appears to have been a massive privacy slip by However, it turns out that the site’s small print is explicit in its lack of assurance of data protection.’s terms and conditions state that it “cannot and do not guarantee that any information provided to us by you will not become public under any circumstances. You should appreciate that all information submitted on the website might potentially be publicly accessible.”

Language industry website Slator then put this to the test. It uncovered a mass of private and sensitive data freely available online. Staff termination letters and an employee performance report from a global investment bank, complete with full names and contact details, are just two examples of the kinds of information that it found.

The dangers of machine translation

The translation industry has a great deal to say when it comes to machine translation. The dangers of using this imperfect technology are well documented. Companies risk receiving poor quality translations that can tarnish their reputation and damage their brand when they opt out of using professional, human translation services. Machine translation can result in embarrassment when it goes wrong. It can also lead to companies wasting time and resources in correcting machine translation mistakes.

Now, it seems that data privacy is also a risk of machine translation – and one that has been largely ignored. However, the privacy breach has shone such an intense spotlight on the issue that we can expect it to be much higher on translation clients’ agendas in the future. Data security will no longer be an afterthought, but a key consideration of all those who need to use a translation service.

How to protect your data privacy with professional translation

Thankfully, there are ways in which companies can assure the privacy of their data when having information translated. At some point in that process, the company has to trust its sensitive data to someone, be it a machine translation website, a bilingual employee, a freelance translator or a professional translation agency. The company must decide on the level of its appetite for risk when it comes to who to trust.

It is here that professional translation services have the edge over the other translation options. Many translation firms have sought to affirm the credentials of their information security systems and procedures with relevant accreditations. This presents clients with the option to use ISO-certified companies when it comes to trusting their data to someone. In the light of the scandal, it’s clear to see the appeal of doing so.

No company can ever be entirely certain that its systems can’t be hacked. However, those with information security management standard ISO/IEC 27001:2013 can proudly state that they have been judged by official certification to have done everything possible to protect the privacy and security of their clients’ data. This cross-sector accreditation can be achieved by companies in a wide range of industries, including the professional translation sector.

The methods of those who would steal your data are becoming ever more sophisticated. As such, it behoves every professional organisation to think carefully about how best to keep its information private. This includes information that is shared with those outside the company, such as documents that need to be translated into other languages. Machine translation services need to be treated with extreme caution in this respect, as the privacy breach has so ably demonstrated. When it comes to data security, using an appropriately accredited, professional translation agency is always the better option. The quality of your translation will be better too!

For a fast, reliable and secure professional document translation service, talk to our team of experts.