Issue appeared to be isolated to translating words relating to homosexuality

Google Inc. (GOOG) came under fire from LBGT (lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender) petition site, over flaws in its Translator Service, which led to translations to some languages yielding homophobic slurs.  Google has now fixed the issue and apologized for its mistake.

The controversy came after people noticed that when translating neutral words in foreign languages pertaining to homosexuality, the English translations at times suggested English colloquialisms that are commonly considered homophobic slurs among native speakers.  This controversial vernacular was also peculiar as searches for neutral foreign equivalents racial terms (e.g. words which would translate to "Asian", "White" or "Black") or gender terms (e.g. words that would translate to "female") did not display racist or sexist slang.

Google Translate

Some of the translations seemed to be especially offensive for languages spoken in regions with active homophobia, such as Russia.  "???", for example -- a Russian word which means "gay" -- offered some pretty wild suggestions.

Russian gay

The seemingly offensive translations were concerning, given that over 500 million people worldwide regularly use Google Translate.  In total a petition about the issue attracted 51,634 signatures, just slightly short of the goal of 60,000 signatures.

After the petition took off, Google was pretty quick to respond to the issue. A spokesperson explained that the flaw originated from crowdsourcing and hence was picking up homophobia of the masses, not via its own intent.  The spokesperson remarked:

As soon as we were informed that some of our translations for certain terms were serving inappropriate results, we immediately began working to fix the issue.  We apologize for any offense this has caused people.  Our systems produce translations automatically based on existing translations on the web, so we appreciate when users point out issues such as this.

Google generally is very progressive when it comes to LBGT rights; it's at times put up quotes and Google Doodles on its homepage seemingly with an advocacy lean.  The company in 2012 launched a campaign called "Legalize Love", which both supported gay marriage in the U.S. and pushed foreign countries to decriminalize homosexuality.  Google has competitive beneftis for gay employees, who commonly refer to themselves as "Gayglers."

Sources: AllOut [petition], via Neowin

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