By Mike Knight
The new, free Firefox Translations browser extension translates websites in the browser without using the cloud, using machine learning.
Firefox Translations provides automated translation of web content but, unlike cloud-based alternatives, the translation is done locally, on the client-side, so that the text being translated does not leave the user’s machine. With Firefox Translations, the engines, language models and in-page translation algorithms reside and are executed entirely in the user’s computer, so none of the data is sent to the cloud. This enables use of the tool offline thereby making it convenient in any situation and frees the user from any worries about privacy concerns relating to using cloud providers.
How It Was Made
The new Firefox add-on/extension was developed by using a high-level API around the machine translation engine, ported to WebAssembly (a new type of code). The operations for matrix multiplication were then optimised to run efficiently on CPUs (a computer’s central processor). This enabled Mozilla to develop a translations add-on that allowed the integration of local machine translation into every web page so that users can perform free-form translations without using the cloud.
Part Of Project Bergamot
Firefox Translations was developed as part of EU-funded Project Bergamot (2019) which saw Firefox work as part of a consortium including the University of Edinburgh, Charles University, University of Sheffield, and University of Tartu.
There are several other widely used competing machine learning-based web translation tools including Google Translate (website interface, mobile app and API), Microsoft Translator (machine translation cloud service using the using the Translator API and Speech service), and DeepL Translator (a neural machine translation service).
The big differences between them are that:
- Firefox Translations works offline and doesn’t use the cloud, so some users may see it as a more private option.
- Firefox Translations covers fewer languages, only 12 compared to Google Translate’s 100+ languages.
- Mozilla says that Firefox Translations includes two novel features. These are translation of forms, to allow users to input text in their own language that is dynamically translated on-the-fly to the page’s language, and quality estimation of the translations. This automatically highlights where low confidence translations are on the page, thereby notifying users of potential errors.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
In a global marketplace, translator tools can be very convenient and useful whereby technologies such as machine learning have given them the greater value and functionality that users require. There have, in recent years however, been data security and privacy concerns based around web translators and apps, e.g. the Translate.com data breach, worries about cloud connections to translation tools and how trade secrets, and intellectual property could be exposed.
Having a translation tool, such as Firefox Translations where translation is all done locally, on the client-side, with no need for a cloud connection does appear to be a possible advantage in terms of allaying fears about privacy.
Although both Google’s Chrome and Firefox browsers are both now based on Chromium and Firefox is popular, Google is still dominant in the browser market and its translator tool, which offers many more languages than Firefox Translations is, unsurprisingly, the leading competitor.
However, for businesses that would value a possibly more private and very convenient (work offline) alternative, Firefox Translations may be worth looking at.