Google Spokesperson to Fusion’s @thisisjorge: Incorrect Translation of “Indocumentado” Not Changing

Aug 13, 2013
9:45 AM

Yesterday, we linked back to opinion piece from Jorge Rivas of Fusion, who was surprised to find out that Google Translate uses the term “illegal immigrant” when a user enters the Spanish word “indocumentado” (“undocumented”) into the Internet giant’s translation system.


Yesterday, Rivas followed up with Google and this is what Google said. In short, leave us alone, Jorge:

A Google spokesperson told me the company has no plans to update the failed translation and that it’s up to the free online service’s users to suggest better translations and improve the system.

“Google Translate aims to help people access content online in languages they don’t speak. It produces translations automatically based on translated text that already exists on the web,” read a statement sent to Fusion by Ricardo Blanco, a Google product communications specialist based in Mexico City.

“Since the translations are generated by machine, they’re not always perfect, but we’re constantly working to improve the quality of our algorithms, and we appreciate this feedback,” Blanco’s statement went on to read.

Google Translate generates translation by looking for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents. I had a phone conversation with Blanco and explained to him that the term “undocumented” was clearly “indocumentado” in Spanish and that in this case the translating service resulted in failed translation. Blanco didn’t see the urgency in human intervention to update the translation.

Blanco said it was up to Google Translate users to suggest better translations by using a built in feature for improved translation suggestions.

I rephrased the question and again explained that the term undocumented and “illegal immigrant” had very different political meanings but Blanco reiterated translations are based on the way their service indexes millions of other translations on the internet.

You can read all of Rivas’ story here.

As for us? If the Associated Press can change language, so can Google. It’s time to #DropTheIWord, Google.

And we aren’t the only ones saying it, here is a just a sampling of tweets: