We translate thousands of words daily using CAT tools. There are tons of programs to aid us during translation that we can choose from. Some of them are open-source, for others we have to pay and there are some which are offered on a subscription basis. However, we are now faced with a new type of utility which has been presented to us as the answer to all our problems, for both customers and service providers alike: The Cloud.
While it is true that every cloud has a silver lining, this particular cloud is complicated and we should all understand its benefits, how it works and how it can be harmful to us. Basically, the cloud implies using Internet-based systems to share resources, software, and information stored in our computers. They are applications we can run from our web browsers as if the programs were installed in our PCs. The physical infrastructure is out there and you access to it by means of a third-party provider, sometimes by a subscription or on a pay-per-use basis. There are also similar services known as Software as Service (SaaS).
We can benefit by using the Cloud because we don't need a lot of space in our systems to keep the software running. Our working material and programs are readily available to us, no matter where we are, and it also implies a reduction of costs for some of us. We can share our material with other translators, the workflow is much simpler and offers the added benefit that it doesn't overload our systems or slow them down with heavy applications. We can all forget about computer crashes.
However, there are a series of issues we should all bear in mind when using these services:
Hacking is an inherent characteristic of any software application: It's in its nature, no matter what we do to prevent it. For simple, unsophisticated software like a web browser we're advised to be extremely careful; just by landing on a website we can harm our system. We are advised to use anti-virus ware and anti-spyware and update them regularly, to protect and change our passwords frequently, and to make sure our firewalls are working. So, what happens when the software or systems we use are more sophisticated? Even worse, what happens when the information that can be accessed in our system does not belong to us?
In our work, it is common to be requested to sign confidentiality agreements to protect proprietary information, but how can we be sure that information protected by copyright laws is safe in the servers out there? When you use the cloud, you can't know for sure where your information is being stored and what measures are being taken to protect it. You leave it to third-parties to manage it. Here are some facts you should know about security breaches in cloud applications:
Gmail, Salesforce, and even the Obama Administration have all been hacked. These examples tell us we need to be extremely careful. The fact is, security remains a great concern in cloud-based applications. Not only the systems must be secure, we have to rely on staff, such as administrators or simple employees, who are in charge of managing these online applications.
To make matters worse, all End User License Agreements of these web-based applications basically explain that "if you use the service, then you're responsible for whatever happens." Users are responsible for the security and integrity of their own data. Just browse through any of those agreements, and find out for yourself. If copyright information is accessed, you're responsible, and don't forget you have signed an agreement to protect it. So, it's up to you to use the Cloud. And there are also other legal issues involved. What happens with the laws of different countries? You should know that Information that is not considered confidential in one country might actually be confidential in another one. Since you are not aware where your information is being stored, how can you make sure you comply with laws such as the US government's HIPAA or the European Union's Data Protection Directive?
And there is yet another drawback: We have to pay to use these services. This point might be debatable because we also choose to buy CAT tools. However, when we use software in our systems, we do whatever possible to keep it safe. It is, of course, our responsibility. In cloud systems, it is not up to us to secure the information and we're NOT offered any guarantee about it. I find the matter to be quite contradictory. We pay to use a service in order to keep our clients happy and improve our productivity, but no one will put themselves on the line for us. A series of questions remain unanswered and it is my belief that they raise serious concerns for the freelance translators who rely on applications to complete their daily tasks. Who is going to answer for us if the system is hacked or if there is a leakage of information? Who is going to answer for us if we breach any law?
We work hard, gain experience, invest in education and software, and every day, we make sure the services we provide are perfect. We approach our job with professionalism and go the extra mile to protect information that doesn't belong to us. Still, we must be careful with the services we choose to aid us in our daily tasks, because all the effort we put into providing professional and perfect services might be at risk.
History tells us that even the most infallible application has, in the long run, failed... Wasn't the Titanic an unsinkable ship?
María Teresa Jones Acebal
Illustration: Juan Manuel Tavella