Is your grammar software a security risk?

Emily Cotlier | September 15, 2017

Grammar software and applications are proliferating, offering more options all the time. This software tries to help writers by analysing the spelling, grammar, and sentence structure in their writing, and offering suggestions for improvement.

We recommend using grammar software to support your own clear writing. We also hope that everyone understands that grammar software has some limitations and can affect your information’s privacy.

Grammar software and content security: an important question

Many people praise the widely marketed grammar programs Hemingway and Grammarly. Both of these have free options. They can provide feedback about your writing as you work. Grammarly even offers to embed itself in your web browsers so that all your emails and social media replies use good grammar. But how does grammar software impact your content security?

Read the terms of service to find out

What does it mean if you are allowing a third party access to everything you are writing through your grammar software? You should be able to find and read the terms of service to find out. We had a difficult time finding the Hemingway terms of service online to evaluate their security and content policies.

Grammarly has clear terms of service posted online. Grammarly states that your content is stored on one of its servers to help provide you with technical support. The terms of service promise that Grammarly won’t look at your content unless there’s a problem.

Still, Grammarly storing your writing may be a security violation if you’re working with sensitive content. Check your workplace information security policy to find out what you need to know.

At the blog eli4d, the author, a Grammarly fan, has set up a hack to use Grammarly with maximum privacy. Even with this, Grammarly will still hold onto your content for 14 days.

Grammar software can provide mixed results

Once you’ve checked the terms of service, can grammar software provide the help you need? Hemingway provides a helpful website that lets you use their tool anonymously to evaluate your text. We decided to see what Hemingway’s grammar analysis looked like. Here’s a screenshot of the results.

Screen shot of grammar analysis using the Hemingway app

One example of results using the Hemingway grammar app.

These results show why reviewers, while praising the grammar aspect of these tools, note that the tools do not replace a human proofreader. The Hemingway app didn’t like New Zealand spelling. It let a misspelled word, ‘tying’, slide by — the word is not correct for that context. The app did do well in identifying too-long sentences and checking for passive language.

Christopher Grobmeier summed it up well in his recent review of Grammarly:

Grammarly can’t make you a better writer. A good editor can help you to become a better Writer [sic]. Grammarly doesn’t fix all your spelling and grammar issues. And while it looks beautiful and shiny [at] first, even Grammarly has some bugs and can’t be used in all the tools you might expect.

Use grammar software thoughtfully

Even with its limitations, grammar software can genuinely help us write better, supporting our own proofreading and editing.

When you are using grammar software, always:

Insights, tips, and professional development opportunities.