Google removed a stereotypical translation suggestion to a simple Arabic word from its widely used Google Translate app this week, after being contacted by media and an advocacy group.
The change took place on Wednesday, after Newsweek pointed out to the company that when users entered the Arabic word for the verb “plan”, Google Translate would predict the rest of the phrase to be “Planning to blow up the car.”
Newsweek contacted the company, as did the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
Google subsequently apologized and removed the suggested phrase.
“Google Translate is an automatic translator, using patterns from millions of existing translations as well as user queries to help decide on the best translation and autocomplete suggestions for our users,” the tech giant said in a statement. “Unfortunately, some of those patterns can lead to unintentional autocomplete suggestions. We’re very sorry for this offensive error and are actively working on a fix which should be implemented shortly.”
CAIR said it welcomed the change.
“Arabs and Muslims have been subjected to significant discrimination based on stereotypes over the last 20 years,” said CAIR Director of Research and Advocacy Corey Saylor. “In 2021, CAIR received over 6,720 complaints nationwide, including incidents of discrimination, hate and bullying.
“The example used in Google Translate is unnecessary to providing a clear understanding of the term and reinforces negative stereotypes about a minority U.S. population, as well as Arabic speakers worldwide. We urge you to take swift action to correct this issue and look forward to hearing back from you.”
CAIR recently issued a civil rights report illustrating the impacts of structural and interpersonal Islamophobia in the country, detailing more than 6,700 civil rights complaints, the highest number ever recorded.
“Stereotyping often results in the type of bias that negatively impacts all minority communities,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said. “While the stereotypes of the last 20 years have been particularly intense, stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims has been a staple for generations in the U.S.”