Translation Services and Confidentiality Agreements

Translators have access to some of the world’s most heavily guarded secrets. Think about it…businesses go through millions of dollars in security to protect proprietary data, formulas, recipes, business ideas, medical data, personnel information, etc. Then, when that information needs to be sent to an overseas office, placed on a patent application, submitted for approval to a foreign government, and so forth, who do they turn to? Translation services. After all, they don’t know the target language or culture.

Do you see the problem? Millions of dollars spent on background checking employees, compartmentalizing information through security clearances, physical and technological safeguards, and then they turn their most prized documents over to somebody who posted a resume on a freelancing site. Even if the discrepancy is not that blatant of the face of it, when a company hires a translation service do they know who will actually be translating their documents? Taken one step further, do most companies know for sure their translators are not subcontracting out portions of their work?

Confidentiality is about guaranteeing the client that the information you have access to is safe and will not be distributed to anybody else by any means or in any quantity. Going hand-in-hand with confidentiality needs are non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s). NDA’s are documents signed by companies and their employees promising not to disclose any information they come across during the course of their project. This would include the sharing of information with subcontractors who have not been approved by the client in advance.

By working with companies who have confidentiality agreements and NDA’s on file, and/or insisting on every person seeing or touching your files to sign one of your design, you move a transgression from one of an ethical breach to a matter of law.

Understanding the Need for the NDA

Not every author has a global audience and needs to worry about leaked material. Those that do, however, have a very real concern when working with translators. Leaked material can cost them millions of dollars in promotional dollars and sales. It’s not just books that are translated. There are business plans, promotional materials, marketing documents, surveys, legal agreements, contracts, patent applications, etc.

Consider the potential effect of a business expanding into a new market. They are going to be the first company of their type in this area. The person translating these documents leaks the information to a competitor…. Perhaps a product is tested and the translator knows the results of the tests before the market does… A translator often knows the details of contracts that nobody else is privy to… Translators usually have access to vast amounts of personal information. The amount and type vary by the types of documents they translate, but those working in the medical field, human resources, or with any sort of human testing know things about people that are highly confidential….

The NDA does not just discuss overt crime. Ensuring your translation service has confidentiality agreements and NDA’s in place does not say they do not trust their employees, it says that they understand security is important. More times than not a breach of confidentiality is going to be accidental. Companies that know the importance of these issues are more likely to have safeguards in place to minimize the risk of inadvertent information compromise.

There are three main ways information gets compromised (other than overt theft) with a translator:

  • Information is shared about a project over the email. The email is not secure and people that should not see things do. Along those same lines, sometimes somebody will accidentally be included as an addressee when they shouldn’t have been. Translation services with private FTP sites can offer a more secure way of file transfer than email. Just make sure that once they receive your files they are not them disseminated through email to others.
  • If you have highly confidential or classified information, it should be translated on computer systems that are not hooked up to the Internet. Systems that are accessible to hackers are at a significant risk because most translating agencies do not have state-of-the-art anti-hacking software.
  • Machine Translations. Machine translations and computer-assisted translations (CAT) are not security risks in-and-of themselves. The issue is the term base and translation memory used by the computers. When these time-saving databases are updated with your personal, proprietary, confidential, or classified information, you need to ensure you know where that information is going to go. Often, term bases and translation memories are uploaded, shared, or simply used by the same company on different projects (perhaps a competitor’s project) without your knowledge.

Keeping your information safe and secure is vital. Translators need to be included on your safety and security plan, and need to be responsible for confidentiality. When you do business with a translation service provider, be certain it is one who has top marks in confidentiality.

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