Bing, Microsoft’s version of Google, learned the hard way that fluffing your translation service is a bad way to win friends on the internet.
According to a report in the Guardian, the search engine’s translator thought the word “Daesh” — the Arabic word for the group calling themselves Islamic State — meant “Saudi Arabia” in English.
The error was pointed out by people on Twitter:
— قناةبحار (@B7_AR) August 25, 2016
— ibrahim abdullah (@hemo53578) August 25, 2016
So @bing has equaled a search about ISIS (daesh) to Saudi Arabia. That's quite distressing. Microsoft and USA, thanks for your racism.
— Hash (@Purpastous) August 30, 2016
The company was quick to respond. Mamdouh Najjar, a vice president for Microsoft who works within Saudi Arabia, told the Huffington Post Arabia that the mistake may have been due to the crowdsourced nature of the translator — when it receives a suggestion from 1,000 people, he said, the service may opt to go with that translation.
Just last week, Bing’s map service screwed up when it positioned Melbourne, Australia, in the wrong hemisphere. A program manager noted on Twitter that the mistake was due to...Wikipedia.
@ssharwood This issue has been fixed. Missing negative sign in Wikipedia data.
— Ricky Brundritt (@rbrundritt) August 22, 2016
In an earlier email to Gizmodo, a Microsoft spokesperson further explained that Wikipedia data, among other data sources, “is used to provide rich descriptions for some results on the Bing Maps website. These descriptions are then linked to our location data for positioning them on the map”.
Of course, Bing isn’t the only service to use crowdsourced data. Google users can add and edit places on the Maps platform, and in 2014, Google briefly showed the Wikipedia page for Ebola above the Center for Disease Control’s information, the New York Times reported. And Bing’s translator certainly isn’t the only translation service to spit out erroneous results: Google translated “Russian federation” into “Mordor” in January. (A spokesperson blamed the mistake on “automatic translation”.)