Are your translations private?

If you use online translation tools to quickly translate a document or an email you don’t understand, your translations might not be private.
The text you’ve copied and pasted into tools like Google Translate could now be stored in the cloud. This makes them publicly available to anyone who wants to search for them.
In recent years we’ve all become a lot more aware of data privacy issues. Perhaps, like me, you’ve tightened up the security settings on your social media accounts. Alternatively, you’ve received data protection training at work. But, what about the content you’re translating on behalf of your employer?

Are your translations private?

Online translation tools could expose your organisation to a data breach

It’s not necessarily the fault of the companies that provide free online translation tools. Under data protection regulations, like GDPR, 3rd party providers are required to protect your personal data. This includes: name, email address, financial details etc, but not necessarily the content you upload to a free translation tool. says in its Privacy Policy:
“We 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.”

Similarly, Microsoft Translator says in its legal notices that using the service entitles the company to:
“copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate and reformat your Submission. “

But, how many of us read the Terms & Conditions, or even think that using online translation tools could inadvertently put sensitive information in the public domain?

How to avoid mistakes associated with online translations

In 2017 NRK, a Norwegian news agency reported that sensitive information from Statoil was available online because employees had used the free online translation tool These documents included contracts, workforce reduction plans, passwords, contact details and dismissal letters. As a result of this breach, the Oslo Stock Exchange blocked employees from accessing, Google Translate and other free translation tools.

Translation industry experts have been warning about this vulnerability for some time. In an article for tcWorld CSA Research shared the results of a survey conducted on localisation managers at enterprises. They were asked about the use of free machine translation tools by their corporate colleagues and fellow employees, respondents estimated that online tools were used frequently by 64% of their colleagues. The tools were used for everything from translating emails and text messages, to translating project proposals, legal contracts, merger and acquisition documents, and other sensitive content. Understandably, 62% of those surveyed were very concerned about the potential loss of IP and data.

The article concluded that by using these tools: “Both your employees and your suppliers are unconsciously conspiring to broadcast your confidential information, trade secrets, and intellectual property to the world.”

How can you use free translation tools without the risk?

Online translation tools are useful for translating certain types of content. Free tools reduce costs and are instantly accessible. But, the onus is most definitely on you to protect your organisation’s data, sensitive information and any personal data you handle and store. It’s not the responsibility of online translation companies.

Here are my dos and don’ts to get the benefits of machine translation tools without the risk:

Do implement a data protection policy for using machine translation tools. Make sure everyone within your organisation understands it and the reasons they must comply.

Don’t translate content from a language you don’t know unless it’s already in the public domain. If you don’t understand it, how will you know if it contains sensitive information?

Do remove any sensitive information or personal data from content that you want to translate.

Don’t copy and paste content without checking it for sensitive content, ask yourself whether your organisation would be happy for it to be searchable online.

Don’t assume your translation service provider isn’t using machine translation. Ask about how they protect your content, especially sensitive data when using machine translation and Translation Management Systems (TMS). Work with translation partners that provide a closed environment and have robust data protection processes in place.

Do remember that free online translation tools are not only a data protection threat, they can also damage your organisation’s reputation if the translation is inaccurate or misleading!

So next time you receive an email from an overseas colleague or customer and need to translate it, think about whether it’s a good idea to use an online translation tool. Instead, it may be better to find a bilingual colleague to translate the content or use a trusted translation partner.

If you would like to find out how we handle sensitive content, such as legal translations and corporate documentation, click here.

To learn more about kickstarting your translations, please download our guide by clicking on the link below.

kickstart your translation strategy

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