The One Mistake you may be making when using free online translation tools (aka Google Translate)

Do you sometimes use Google Translate to get an idea of what a legal document is about?

This is not a post about the quality of translation produced by Google Translate or other similar programs. I have written a separate post on that subject if you are interested.

No, this post is about confidentiality. I was really surprised when I realised that many lawyers were not aware that copy-pasting their document (or parts of it) into Google Translate meant that the text had entered the public domain. Most of the time, the reason why lawyers do this is to get an idea of what the document is about and whether it needs to be professionally translated as part of their transaction or dispute resolution. For example, if you have hundreds of documents that could help a legal case, you might be tempted to run these through Google Translate (even if the result is not the highest quality) to select the ones that need to be translated by a professional and included in the court bundle.

Beware! Google Terms of Service provide:

“When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.”

 I once had an interesting conversation with a litigator who had asked me to sign a confidentiality agreement. He casually mentioned in a call that Google Translate had proposed a word other than the one I had used in a critical sentence of the document. Now this was a document that needed to be filed at court and had not been seen by the other side, a document that really needed to remain confidential until the filing date. In this particular case, it was highly unlikely that the other side was paying someone to monitor the internet but in a big international case with wealthy parties, who knows what the parties might invest in?

Conclusion: Do not use Google Translate for Confidential Documents

Do you want to go deeper? Read my post on the alternatives to Google Translate for working out which documents require translating.

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