Translation and Language Industry Observations

As widely reported by various media, China has shut off access to Google Translate in mainland China. Users in China that try to access translate.google.cn or translate.google.com are redirected to a link to Google Translate Hong Kong. But that won’t work in China either. Chinese also blocked the Google Translate API, rendering all apps that use Google Translate dysfunctional.

Why is China doing this?

Some reports say that Google has of its own volition shut down Translate due to low usage. But this appears to be a flimsy excuse designed to thwart off speculations regarding Google’s relationship with the Chinese government. The true reason for the shutdown is China’s censorship of the Internet. Google Translate, which translates billions of words a day, can be used to mine a wealth of information about the state of affairs in any given country. Put into the wrong hands, such data is a goldmine of intelligence gathering about a wide range of affairs including those related to military and data security.

Use of Google Translate as a Proxy Server/VPN

Not only is Google Translate a good source for intelligence gathering, it can be used as a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to hide the user’s IP. The Chinese government wants to track Internet use and check what people are looking for. By using Google Translate, users can circumvent surveillance and access any website freely. China does not want this.

What Other Machine Translation Tools are Available in China?

The most widely used free online translation tools in China are Baidu Translate and Alibaba Translate. The Chinese government does have any security issues which these Chinese Internet companies, as the industry is heavily regulated and monitored by the Chinese government. Unlike the USA, where the big tech companies are not obligated to hand over any data to the US government. Indeed, quite the opposite as court rulings in recent years have made data privacy and security a top concern.

Is the USA Doing Anything About This?

In recent years, the USA has sanctioned major superpowers by boycotting or semi-boycotting the Olympics when hosted in countries like China and Russia. But censoring of Internet sites is rare, also due to freedom of speech which is a constitutional right in the USA. Most other European and Asian countries don’t engage in Internet censorship. So the Chinese MT apps like Baidu and Alibaba are open for use to anyone to most anyone in the world. But the USA has sanctioned Chinese voice recognition company iFLYTEK due to illegal surveillance and human rights abuses.

The Future of Machine Translation in China

We can expect continued restrictions of foreign online translation apps in China, as they pose a perceived security concern to the Chinese government. Chinese machine translation will continue to flourish and will be used by more and more people worldwide.

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