Sunday, February 13, 2011

Google Translate App for iPhone Censors Swear Words

WARNING: This post contains graphic language. Don't read it if you are too sensitive.

Since I bought an iPad for our home, my five- and eight-year old children have learned every imaginable swear word on YouTube by watching Lego videos and Justin Bieber parodies. After the initial surge in interest and the inevitable uncomfortable situations in public, they seem to have gotten over the potty mouth phase.

Last week, I installed the new Google Translate app on my iPhone and was impressed by the voice recognition in 15 languages and the accuracy of the translations. I actually thought that it would have come handy in a couple of situations in Korea and China, where there were no foreign language speakers around.

This weekend, one of my brothers from Brazil came to visit and we started to play with the Google Translate app. Just like when we were kids moving to a new country, the first phrases we used to test the functionality of our new toy were swear words. And this is where the big surprise came: Google Translate doesn't print swear words in English. But ONLY in English.

As you can see in the screen capture, every time we used the word fuck, it was replaced by ####.

Out of curiosity, and using a very scientific approach to the process, we went about testing offensive sentences expressed in other languages and translated into English. Interestingly, the app had no problem translating and printing the word fuck from other languages into English, as you can see from the screen captures below.

This makes me wonder what is behind this policy and who makes the decision to enforce it.
  • App Store policy against offensive language? If so, does this also happen in the Android version of the app?
  • Hypersensitivity of Americans to four-letter words? If so, does this also happen in the UK or Australian versions of the app?
  • Why does the "censorship" only applies when you speak the swear words? In fact, you can actually type them and the text will be translated fine.
In any case, this is just a funny thing. The tool itself is excellent and very practical. I have been able to dictate relatively long sentences with acceptable accuracy, especially for a free tool. No wonder it is already the number one download in the App Store.

If you have an iPhone, download the app today and test it with your language pairs.

The screen captures below were the result of speaking a sentence in a foreign language and having it translated into English using the voice recognition feature.