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Machine Translation Technology and Internet Security

An issue that seems to have been brought up once in the industry and never addressed again are the data collection methods used by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Skype, and Apple as well as the revelations of PRISM data collection from those same companies, thanks to Edward Snowden. More and more, it appears that the industry is moving closer and closer to full Machine Translation Integration and Usage, and with interesting, if alarming, findings being reported on Machine Translation’s usage when integrated into Translation Environments, the fact remains that Google Translate, Microsoft Bing Translator, and other publicly-available machine translation interfaces and APIs store every single word, phrase, segment, and sentence that is sent to them.

Terms and ConditionsWhat exactly are you agreeing to when you send translation segments through the Google Translate or Bing Translator website or API?1 – Google Terms and Conditions

Essentially, in using Google’s services, you are agreeing to permit them to store the segment to use for creating more accurate translations in the future, they can also publish, display, and distribute the content.

“When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content.” (Google Terms of Service – 14 April 2014, accessed on 8 December 2014)

Oh, and did I mention that in using the service, the user is bearing all liability for“LOST PROFITS, REVENUES, OR DATA, FINANCIAL LOSSES OR INDIRECT, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES.” (Google Terms of Service – 14 April 2014, accessed on 8 December 2014)

So if it is discovered that a client’s confidential content is also located on Google’s servers because of a negligent translator, that translator is liable for losses and Google relinquishes liability for distributing what should have been kept confidential.

Alright, that’s a lot of legal wording, not the best news, and a lot to take in if this is the first time you’re hearing about this. What about Microsoft Bing Translator?

2 – Microsoft Services Agreement (correction made to content – see below)

In writing their services agreement, Microsoft got very tricky. They start out positively by stating that you own your own content.

“Except for material that we license to you that may be incorporated into your own content (such as clip art), we do not claim ownership of the content you provide on the services. Your content remains your content, and you are responsible for it. We do not control, verify, pay for, or endorse the content that you and others make available on the services.” (Microsoft Services Agreement – effective 19 October 2012, accessed on 8 December 2014)

Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! We have a winner! Right? Hold your horses, don’t install the Bing API yet. It continues on in stating,

“When you transmit or upload Content to the Services, you’re giving Microsoft the worldwide right, without charge, to use Content as necessary: to provide the Services to you, to protect you, and to improve Microsoft products and services.”(Microsoft Services Agreement – effective 19 October 2012, accessed on 8 December 2014)

So again with Bing, while they originally state that you own the content you submit to their services, they also state that in doing so, you are giving them the right to use the information as they see fit and (more specifically) to improve the translation engine.

How do these terms affect the translation industry, then?

The problem arises whenever translators are working with documents that contain confidential or restricted-access information. Aside from his/her use of webmail hosted by Microsoft, Google, Apple, etc. – which also poses a problem with confidentiality – contents of documents that are sent through free, public machine translation engines; whether through the website or API, are leaking the information the translator agreed to keep confidential in the Non-Disclosure Agreement (if established) with the LSP; a clear and blatant breach of confidentiality.

But I’m a professional translator and have been for years, I don’t use MT and no self-respecting professional translator would.

Well, yes and no; a conflict arises from that mode of thinking. In theory, yes, a professional translator should know better than to blindly use Machine Translation because of its inaccurate and often unusable output. A professional translator; however, should also recognize that with advancements in MT Technology, Machine Translation can be a very powerful tool in the translator’s toolbox and can, at times, greatly aid in the translation of certain documents.

The current state of the use of MT more echoes the latter than the former. In 2013 research conducted by Common Sense Advisory, 64% of the 239 people who responded to the survey reported that colleagues frequently use free Machine Translation Engines; 62% of those sampled were concerned about free MT usage.

In the November/December 2014 Issue of the ATA Chronicle, Jost Zetzsche relayed information on how users were using the cloud-based translation tool MemSource. Of particular interest are the Machine Translation numbers relayed to him by David Canek, Founder of MemSource. 46.2% of its around 30,000 users (about 13,860 translators) were using Machine Translation; of those, 98% were using the Google Translate or a variant of the Bing Translator API. And of still greater alarm, a large percentage of users using Bing Translator chose to employ the “Microsoft with Feedback” option which sends the finalized target segment back to Microsoft (a financially appealing option since when selected, use of the API costs nothing).

As you can imagine, while I was reading that article, I was yelling at all 13.9 thousand of them through the magazine. How many of them were using Google or Bing MT with documents that should not have been sent to either Google or Microsoft? How many of these users knew to shut off the API for such documents – how many did?

There’s no way to be certain how much confidential information may have been leaked due to translator negligence, in the best scenario perhaps none, but it’s clear that the potential is very great.

On the other hand, in creating a tool as dynamic and ever-changing as a machine translation engine, the only way to train it and make it better is to use it, a sentiment that is echoed throughout the industry by developers of MT tools and something that can be seen in the output of Google translate over the past several years.

So what options are there for me to have an MT solution for my customers without risking a breach in confidentiality?

There are numerous non-public MT engines available – including Apertium, a developing open-source MT platform – however, none of them are as widely used (and therefore, as well-trained) as Google Translate or Bing Translator (yes, I realize that I just spent over 1,000 words talking about the risk involved in using Google Translate or Bing Translator).

So, is there another way? How can you gain the leverage of arguably the best-trained MT Engines available while keeping confidential information confidential?

There are companies who have foreseen this problem and addressed it, without pitching their product, here’s how it works. It acts as an MT API but before any segments are sent across your firewall to Google, it replaces all names, proper nouns, locations, positions, and numbers with an independent, anonymous token or placeholder. After the translated segment has returned from Google and is safely within the confines of your firewall, the potentially confidential material then replaces the tokens leaving you with the MT translated segment. On top of that, it also allows for customized tokenization rules to further anonymize sensitive data such as formulae, terminology, processes, etc.

While the purpose of this article was not to prevent translators from using MT, it is intended to get translators thinking about its use and increase awareness of the inherent risks and solution options available.

If you’d like more information about Machine Translation Solutions, please feel free to contact me, I’d be more than happy to discuss this topic at length. For more blog articles like this one, stay tuned.


— Correction
As I have been informed, the information in the original post is not as exact as it could be, there is a Microsoft Translator Privacy Agreement that more specifically addresses use of the Microsoft Translator. Apparently, with Translator, they take a sample of no more than 10% of “randomly selected, non-consecutive sentences from the text” submitted. Unused text is deleted within 48 hours after translation is provided.If the user subscribes to their data subscriptions with a maximum of 250 million characters per month (also available at levels of 500 million, 635 million, and one billion) , he or she is then able to opt-out of logging.There is also Microsoft Translator Hub which allows the user to personalize the translation engine where “The Hub retains and uses submitted documents in full  in order to provide your personalized translation system and to improve the Translator service.”  And it should be noted that, “After you remove a document from your Hub account we may continue to use it for improving the Translator service.”  ***So let’s analyze this development. 10% of the full text submitted is sampled and unused text is deleted within 48 hours of its service to the user. The text is still potentially from a sensitive document and still warrants awareness of the issue.

If you use The Translator Hub, it uses the full document to train the engine and even after you remove the document from your Hub, and they may also use it to continue improving the Translator service.

Now break out the calculators and slide rules, kids, it’s time to do some math.

In order to opt-out of logging, you need to purchase a data subscription of 250 million characters per month or more (the 250 million character level costs $2,055.00/month). If every word were 50 characters each, that would be 5 million words per month (where a month is 31 days)  and a post-editor would have to process 161,290 words per day (working every single day of this 31-day month). It’s physically impossible for a post-editor to process 161,290 words in a day, let alone a month (working 8 hours a day for 20 days a month, 161,290 words per month would be 8,064.5 words per day). So we can safely assume that no freelance translator can afford to buy in at the 250 million character/month level especially when even in the busiest month, a single translator comes no where near being able to edit the amount of words necessary to make it a financially sound expense.

In the end, I still come to the same conclusion, we need to be more cognizant of what we send through free, public, and semi-public Machine Translation engines and educate ourselves on the risks associated with their use and the safer, more secure solutions available when working with confidential or restricted-access information.

I’d like to thank all those on who have read and shared this post with others throughout the industry, I never expected this first post to be so well-received.

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One comment on “Machine Translation Technology and Internet Security

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