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Is your data secure during translation?

Is your data secure during translation?

Translators use artificial intelligence (AI) to help them with their work. In contrast to the times when AI translation tools consisted of simple text editors, machines now help complete larger workloads at a considerably faster rate. But there is a catch that not everyone is prepared for or even aware of: client data can fall into unknown hands, such as those of a client’s competitor. It is a critical responsibility of the translator to protect this data – often internal and sensitive – with highly attentive security measures.

Over the past decade, the translation industry has doubled in size. Last year, total turnover reached almost 47 billion US dollars. Lukáš Pokorný, Chief Sales Officer of Skrivanek Translation Agency, confirms the increasing interest in translations.

Demand is growing constantly,” Pokorný says. “We most often translate professional documents for companies that feel translations from an external agency will work out to be cheaper, with faster turnaround, than if they decided to assign such jobs to their own employees.”

He adds that the type of documents submitted for translation is also changing. As multilingual skills among the population improve, the number of translations of everyday business communications, emails, and letters are decreasing. 
“On the other hand, there is an increase in translations of highly professional and specialized texts, top company management materials, whole websites, and software such as mobile applications, games, anti-viruses, and e-shops,” says Pokorný.  

At the same time, pressure for rapid turnaround is growing. “If possible, yesterday,” is a phrase often heard among translators, and thanks to increasingly sophisticated technology, translators are indeed capable of doing their job at a faster and cheaper rate. This is especially true for translations of a technical or legal nature that contain many repeated industry terms and phrases.

In these cases, translators can produce decent translations by simply checking and fine-tuning translations generated by an AI program. Sometimes there is more work if the text in question needs to be easy and interesting to read. But other times a translator only has to check whether the translation corresponds to the original document.

Of course, the role of a translator remains important. Translators still carry the final responsibility for badly translated documents, and they pay the price for mistakes. It’s not impossible for one incorrectly translated sentence to cause damage in the range of millions of US dollars. 

“That’s why all translation agencies should be insured for such an event,” Pokorný says.

The boom in the use of modern technologies in the translation industry also brings with it an increased risk of information leaks. According to Jiří Proniuk, head of Skrivanek’s CAT and DTP Department, Language Service Providers (LSPs) use tools that are interconnected with clients’ online databases, or directly connected to the clients’ internal systems, or even to other providers of external solutions. It is therefore important to know whether translators are working with the protection of a source code on secure servers, or whether they are using the services of a public provider. 

“We recommend using a secure machine translation environment that can be deployed on your own servers and, if necessary, encoded,” Proniuk explains. “This level of security cannot be accomplished with publicly accessible machine translators, so using them for the translation of a company’s documents can have profound negative consequences.”

For that reason, some companies prohibit their employees from using public translation programs or they block access to them. 
“If sensitive information is leaked through a public machine translator, you will have no practical chance of defending yourself later by blaming that translator,” warns Proniuk. “If you study the terms and conditions of public translation programs, you will often find that you waive your rights. Such clauses can be embedded within dozens of pages of “legalese” and generally quite complicated text, so the average reader prefers to just scroll through and agree. Many public websites settle for a service without additional certification, and without even a separate GDPR check box that we tick to agree to the use of our personal data—that is a problem for companies who use publicly accessible translation software.” 

By using such translators, language agencies actually end up sharing with a third party the data entrusted to them by clients. If they fail to inform the data owner (their client) of this fact, in some cases they are also breaking the law.

“Such LSPs or freelance translators may specify within their terms and conditions that the client’s data will be machine processed,” says Proniuk. “It is such a significant act, however, that the client must be very clearly informed of the fact when entering into a contract. In the case of companies that use public translation software, merely providing a link to their company terms and conditions is just as misleading as writing deceptive information into a contract in small illegible letters. For that reason, companies should verify beforehand which machine translation system their LSP uses.” 

He compares the use of insecure translation software to engaging with online photo editors. 

“People use online photo editors without researching the owner of the editor, the scope of the owner’s services and data sharing, and above all the owner’s intent, that is, why the owner offers such a free online service. Consider, for example, a recent frequently-mentioned service that modified the appearance of people in photos to make them look old. This service’s actual purpose, however, was to use neural network learning to identify the participants with some certainty in other photos,” Proniuk recalls. 

He adds that security comes at a price in every line of business. “Cheap agencies may neglect the security of clients’ data, so if clients care about the security of their data, they must certainly ask about data handling. Estimates of initial investment in secure machine translation software could be in the range of hundreds of thousands crowns.” 

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