Fun With Conspiracy Theories

Earlier this week security reporter Brian Krebs pointed out an odd glitch in Google Translate. It had to do with the service’s treatment of “Lorem Ipsum” placeholder text—the string of Latin words that people use to block out space for text on websites and in other designs before meaningful verbiage is added.

For some reason, strings of “Lorem Ipsum” were coming back as “NATO.” In his post, Krebs works through a few examples and posits a few explanations. Perhaps someone is gaming the translate system for fun, or to get around Chinese censorship laws.

Could it be a code hidden in plain sight?

Even before Krebs finished the post, Google had changed its translation algorithm to make reproducing these results impossible. Now, rather than “lorem” returning “China,” Google Translate simply throws “lorem” right back at you. And, for its part, Google responded cheekily with a Tweet. Garbage in, garbage out, they said. (Google turned down my request for an interview, dismissing the translation as a technical snafu.) But for some that’s not quite good enough—and the assumption that Google is hiding something rather than simply failing at translation says a lot about how we see the Internet giant.

“I’m not a tinfoil hat kind of guy for the most part,” Krebs told me, “but it was very clear that the tinfoil hat people were going to have a field day with this.” And in some ways it’s the perfect conspiracy theory, because you can’t prove what’s going on either way. Without Google’s help—which they haven’t yet offered—there’s no way to know why the translate algorithm connected “lorem lorem” to “China’s Internet.”

via The Atlantic