Google announced this week plans to shut down its Translate API “due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse.” The news raises a question: When dealing with the costly threats of hackers and spam abuse, when should a web company cut its losses?

SSL - security code

Google announced Thursday it will shut down its Translate API entirely later this year, “due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive abuse.”

While the issue of whether the company is justified in shutting down the API (and cutting off a resource upon which developers have based important features and even entire companies) is already a major source of debate, the news raises an interesting general question. When it comes to dealing with the ever-present threat of hackers and spam abuse, when should a web company cut its losses?

Any tech company offering web services in a sizable capacity has to deal with the threat of hackers, spammers and abuse. Just like national defense budgets, it seems that the bigger the tech superpower, the bigger the cost of keeping the hackers at bay. Indeed, Google is certainly not alone in facing expensive security needs of late. Earlier this week, consumer electronics stalwart Sony reported it has already spent more than $170 million dealing with last month’s PlayStation Network hack, adding it will likely spend additional money responding to class action lawsuits stemming from the attack.

The tech industry’s rising stars have found that as they’ve grown, their security needs have expanded in kind. Twitter has said it’s “constantly battling against spam” on its system. “Like it or not, as the system becomes more popular, more and more spammers will try to do their thing,” the company wrote in a blog post last year. And as many as 20 percent of Facebook’s employees are reportedly tasked with focusing on security-related issues.

Hacking and other online abuses will almost certainly become a bigger problem in the coming years as more and more of the world comes online. Weighing the cost of fending off the proverbial barbarians at the gates will continue to be a constant dance for tech companies large and small. And whenever the risk/reward balance of running a certain unit tips into unprofitable territory, it’s within the company’s right to cut it off — regardless of who else it effects. If nothing else, it’s a reminder of the dangers of building a business on another company’s API, especially in today’s increasingly volatile world of online security.

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  1. Lucian Armasu Friday, May 27, 2011

    The spam issues are completely unrelated to the Sony attacks. I also don’t think spam relates much to security. Sony simply had a network full of holes an they went ahead and pissed off a lot of hackers. What was it? “Don’t throw rocks if you’re house is made of glass”?

    1. Thanks for your comment Lucian. You have a good point– the
      Sony situation is certainly unique.

      Here I’m just trying to highlight the more general issue that web companies have to devote huge amounts of time and money into defending themselves. It’s interesting to watch how different firms balance those costs with what should be their core focus: Developing new technologies.

  2. Ralph Haygood Friday, May 27, 2011

    Really, Google? You’re shutting down the API instead of fighting back with smarter engineering? That’s unlike you, and it bodes ill for your future (and a lot of other people’s too).

  3. Affiliate Marketing Saturday, May 28, 2011

    $170 million? That is a lot of money to spent.

  4. of course we can expect still higher level of prevention ways from this search engine company..

  5. ofcourse i dont think its a big problem..to this huge team of search engine

  6. I really don’t see how the Google Translate API has anything to do with Hackers. I mean really are you gonna translate yourself into a system? Spammers maybe could spam in multiple Languages. Sony getting hacked and its Cost has Nothing to do with Googles Translate API which will be missed BTW. It seems nothing more than another situation where “Hacking” gets villafied in the media. Where the real Hacker is the security professional doing and creating forensic analysis tools to decipher, defend, and patching the holes in the security systems, Not the script kiddie with a botnet trying to DDOS a site or make a name for there crew, Sorry but IMHO this story was poorly written and thrown together last minute as filler. D- Overall

    1. I think you missed the point. This article is about the cost of doing business online. If a giant company like Google is shutting down part of it business (Translate API) “due to the substantial economic burden caused by extensive [b]abuse[/b].” then when is it too costly to deal with hacker, spammer, and abuse to keep part of your company in business.

      1. Colleen Taylor Ayn Tuesday, May 31, 2011

        Thanks for your comment Ayn; that is indeed what I was trying to focus on with this article.

  7. It’s always gotta be someone messing it up for others. Darn it! I know 1st about ppl messing things up for you, like plotting to get your scholarship snatched because they’re jealous they can’t , didn’t accomplish , and don’t have the faith to do what you did in working for it, and doing something successfully as a person or company. Spammers and haters are everywhere. Just gotta stay innovative and creative =)

  8. hire more consultants.. hire more people.. if everybody’s well employed then no idle hackers sharpening their talents.

  9. Or better yet… open up all your code like Linux and forgo capitalism and no more hacking.. See? big money + no morals = big hacking

  10. Good beginning of an excellent article. Why don’t you finish writing it?

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