Translators without Borders and the Platform Economy
Thread poster: Attila Piróth

Attila Piróth  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 17:07
Member
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Nov 15

In 2009, President Obama included “automatic, highly accurate and real-time translation between the major languages of the world – greatly lowering the barriers to international commerce and communication” in his Strategy for American Innovation 2009. A few months later, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. Language technology companies claimed that they could help disaster relief efforts with machine translation solutions – and promptly... See more
In 2009, President Obama included “automatic, highly accurate and real-time translation between the major languages of the world – greatly lowering the barriers to international commerce and communication” in his Strategy for American Innovation 2009. A few months later, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti. Language technology companies claimed that they could help disaster relief efforts with machine translation solutions – and promptly requested Carnegie Mellon University to release their data on Haitian Creole.

Shortly afterwards, the Paris-based language charity, Traducteurs Sans Frontières – initially founded as an offshoot of the for-profit translation company Eurotexte/Lexcelera – relocated in Connecticut, US, and was registered as Translators without Borders, a 501(c) charity. Corporate heavyweights of the translation industry joined its board of directors and advisory board en masse. Partnership with the world’s largest commercial translation portal ProZ.com opened the way to massive crowdsourcing, with a great scaling potential. And TWB turned its attention to machine translation.

If Reporters without Borders had Arianna Huffington, Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch as board members, questioning their representation would only be natural. When tech giants Microsoft, Facebook, and Google – but also Symantec, Adobe, Oracle, MacroMedia, dotSub, Paypal, etc. – join forces with some of the largest translation companies (such as Lionbridge, Moravia, Textminded and Elanex), as well as agenda-setters of the bulk translation market (such as ProZ.com, TAUS, Common Sense Advisory, Localization World and Multilingual Magazine) in the board of a language charity, some scrutiny is due.

And upon scrutiny, TWB turns out to be the philanthropic arm of a massive business consortium, which adopts an asset-centered, platform-based, top-down model that offers massive scaling possibilities and reflects a corporate vision of the translation community.

Our investigation gives insight into how volunteer efforts can be used to generate saleable intellectual property – in particular, we describe how, in a Microsoft-funded project, Translators Without Borders used the unpaid labor of its volunteer translators to produce Swahili language assets that were subsequently integrated into Microsoft’s various commercial tools in 2015.

The narrative of ‘progress’ has long been around. It is routinely associated with the kind of technical progress promoted by the chilling motto of the 1933 Chicago World Fair: ‘Science Finds – Industry Applies – Man Conforms’. Insufficient attention is given to the paradox that “productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs.” (Brynjolfsson). But for Douglas Rushkoff this is not a paradox, “but the realization of the industrial drive to remove humans from the value equation. The growth of an economy does not mean more jobs or prosperity for the people living in it.” Is translation heading in that direction, too?

With that in mind, I would like to draw your attention to an article I co-authored with Mona Baker and which we are publishing independently for reasons outlined in our cover note.

Below is the abstract. The full article is available here. You are warned, it is a long read.



The Ethics of Volunteerism in Translation
Translators Without Borders and the Platform Economy

Attila Piróth and Mona Baker

Abstract

Volunteerism is widespread in the translation sector, but the practices associated with it and its ethical import have so far received very little critical attention. This article critiques one of the most high profile beneficiaries of volunteer translation, Translators without Borders, which presents itself as a charity but operates as a corporate concern, with a leadership composed primarily of major industry players. TWB adopts an asset-centred, platform-based, top-down model that offers massive scaling possibilities and reflects a corporate vision of the translation community. It provides a clear example of the wider shift from artisanal to industrial to platform economy as it plays out in the translation field. To demonstrate the potential for volunteer translation to be situated within a more solidary and equitable context and provide an example of one possible alternative to the platform-based paradigm, we discuss the practices of another humanitarian NGO, Solidarités International, which runs a paid internship programme and adopts a small-scale, peer-based, horizontal model with a strong focus on early-career translators. We ask who ultimately benefits from the exploitation of free labour and focus on identifying practices that enhance or jeopardize the professionalization and stature of the translators involved. We further discuss how the linguistic assets produced by volunteer translators can generate saleable intellectual property and how this can lead to conflicts of interest and support patterns of inequality in the wider social context.

[Edited at 2019-11-15 06:52 GMT]
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writeaway
Katalin Szilárd
Rob Grayson
Yvonne Gallagher
Rachel Fell
Yolanda Broad
Jessica Noyes
 

David GAY  Identity Verified
Dutch to French
+ ...
I agree Nov 15

TWB uses MATECAT alias KATO , which is the tool specially designed to improve MT.
It's obviously not a coincidence.
I had warned you about this a few years ago.
Thanks to all translators who generously helped MT efforts

[Modifié le 2019-11-15 08:23 GMT]

[Modifié le 2019-11-15 08:23 GMT]

[Modifié le 2019-11-15 08:25 GMT]

[Modifié le 2019-11-15 08:56 GMT]


Katalin Szilárd
writeaway
Ildiko Santana
 

The Misha
Local time: 11:07
Russian to English
+ ...
Surprise, surprise! Nov 15

To quote the punchline of a well-known Russian joke, and these are the people who forbid me to pick my nose!

I need not read any articles, however lengthy or short, to know what should be apparent to anyone who has eyes to see: that this "charity" and many like it are a scam and a self promotion tool for those pulling the strings behind the scenes. Take your cues from the long-standing military wisdom: do not volunteer. Give directly if you so wish, but stay clear from these tax-adv
... See more
To quote the punchline of a well-known Russian joke, and these are the people who forbid me to pick my nose!

I need not read any articles, however lengthy or short, to know what should be apparent to anyone who has eyes to see: that this "charity" and many like it are a scam and a self promotion tool for those pulling the strings behind the scenes. Take your cues from the long-standing military wisdom: do not volunteer. Give directly if you so wish, but stay clear from these tax-advantaged organized outfits that often give as little as a few percentage points of their annual budgets to their purported causes. Sure thing, help a friend or a neighbor out. Give a ride to an old lady or help her across the street. Throw a few bucks in the hat when it's being passed around to help a kid get much-needed surgery or a family to rebuild after a fire. But whenever some slick corporate honcho comes and asks you to work for free for a good cause - and by "work for free" I mean donate your professional service - tell them to shove it where the sun don't shine.
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P.L.F.Persio
Katalin Szilárd
writeaway
Andriy Yasharov
IT>EN Legal
Morano El-Kholy
Yvonne Gallagher
 

Katalin Szilárd  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 17:07
Member (2006)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
A post of mine from August Nov 15

https://www.proz.com/forum/post_editing_machine_translation/336641-who_is_not_using_mt_today-page5.html#2807566

Especially point 2.

"2. Programmed hype based on the above scheme:

Freelancers please join and translate for free to help others (khmm "or help us to make more money") and post
... See more
https://www.proz.com/forum/post_editing_machine_translation/336641-who_is_not_using_mt_today-page5.html#2807566

Especially point 2.

"2. Programmed hype based on the above scheme:

Freelancers please join and translate for free to help others (khmm "or help us to make more money") and post your psychedelic happiness"



[Edited at 2019-11-15 09:06 GMT]

[Edited at 2019-11-15 12:41 GMT]
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Yolanda Broad
P.L.F.Persio
writeaway
 

Katalin Szilárd  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 17:07
Member (2006)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Transparency Nov 15

The Misha wrote:

To quote the punchline of a well-known Russian joke, and these are the people who forbid me to pick my nose!

I need not read any articles, however lengthy or short, to know what should be apparent to anyone who has eyes to see: that this "charity" and many like it are a scam and a self promotion tool for those pulling the strings behind the scenes. Take your cues from the long-standing military wisdom: do not volunteer. Give directly if you so wish, but stay clear from these tax-advantaged organized outfits that often give as little as a few percentage points of their annual budgets to their purported causes. Sure thing, help a friend or a neighbor out. Give a ride to an old lady or help her across the street. Throw a few bucks in the hat when it's being passed around to help a kid get much-needed surgery or a family to rebuild after a fire. But whenever some slick corporate honcho comes and asks you to work for free for a good cause - and by "work for free" I mean donate your professional service - tell them to shove it where the sun don't shine.



I agree with everything you wrote.
But on the other hand there are many charities that are really based on honesty and real help, and they are working without any commercial or hidden intentions.
I'm not only talking about our profession now, but generally.
I think independent transparency boards should filter the rotten ones.


P.L.F.Persio
Christine Andersen
 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
Really-really? Nov 16

...there are many charities that are really based on honesty and real help, and they are working without any commercial or hidden intentions
Katalin, and how do you know, I wonder?

A viable/existing company is organized with the specific purpose using the limited [available] means. So no nonprofit/NGO can heavily depend on external dedicated/highly-qualified specialists, unless it's a fake, crime, or sponge. It doesn't add up even considering outsourcers, trainees, and probationers. Besides all such institutions I know can easily afford paying a translator some $0.15+/word net or $50+/hour to an interpreter, no prob.

Could you name a worthy charity to compare?
My familiar priest in Kyiv living for alms and donations only--and riding another Maserati--would be pleased to know


 

Katalin Szilárd  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 17:07
Member (2006)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Better motto Nov 16

DZiW wrote:

...there are many charities that are really based on honesty and real help, and they are working without any commercial or hidden intentions
Katalin, and how do you know, I wonder?
A viable/existing company is organized with the specific purpose using the limited [available] means. So no nonprofit/NGO can heavily depend on external dedicated/highly-qualified specialists, unless it's a fake, crime, or sponge. It doesn't add up even considering outsourcers, trainees, and probationers. Besides all such institutions I know can easily afford paying a translator some $0.15+/word net or $50+/hour to an interpreter, no prob.

Could you name a worthy charity to compare?
My familiar priest in Kyiv living for alms and donations only--and riding another Maserati--would be pleased to know


DZiW, I think you misunderstood my post.
Maybe you missed a very important sentence of mine.
I wrote: "I'm not only talking about our profession now, but generally."
I wanted to make sure that the "do not volunteer" part should not be misunderstood.
It wouldn't be a good thing if all charities (I'm not necessarily talking about translation now but overall) were labeled with dishonesty and commercial purposes.
I'm not involved in any charities, don't know any of them in that depth, but I know that there are people who honestly help homeless people or animals etc. So I was talking generally.

So I think "Stop translating for free" would be a better motto.

If you check some of my past posts (even more than a year ago), you will see that I was posting some hints concerning that something was not right... especially around medical translations (my specialization.) Back then nobody reacted or nobody dared to react? ...
Actually I think the content of Attila's post was not new for many experienced translators.
Probably for those who are beginners or don't follow what is going on in the industry, this whole content is totally new.


DZiW
Yolanda Broad
 

Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 17:07
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
I've translated for free Nov 16

When I first learned about Wordfast and how Yves Champollion defied the then reigning Trados translation place I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I’ve contributed many hours to his project just for free. Yves Champollion used translators as a crowbar to pry open the CAT status quo. Ten years further we can switch between CATs and we can choose our own MT solutions. I thank Yves Champollion and I’m proud to have played a small part in the development of CAT.

Cheers,
Gerard


Yolanda Broad
Jorge Payan
Christine Andersen
 

David GAY  Identity Verified
Dutch to French
+ ...
different things Nov 17

Gerard de Noord wrote:

When I first learned about Wordfast and how Yves Champollion defied the then reigning Trados translation place I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I’ve contributed many hours to his project just for free. Yves Champollion used translators as a crowbar to pry open the CAT status quo. Ten years further we can switch between CATs and we can choose our own MT solutions. I thank Yves Champollion and I’m proud to have played a small part in the development of CAT.

Cheers,
Gerard


CAT tools and MT are different things.

[Modifié le 2019-11-17 04:40 GMT]


writeaway
Katalin Szilárd
Christine Andersen
 

Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 17:07
Member
Italian to English
Thank you Attila! Nov 18

I have downloaded the article, and look forward to reading it. I have donated a lot of my time to helping TWB, so am very curious to read your work.
Thank you!


 

Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 17:07
Member
English to French
Got the T-shirt Nov 19

I bought 4 of them much more than 10 years ago, when it was still French-based.
I also donated a few hundred euros of my time, and I had very little spare time.

Then it became big.

Philippe


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:07
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I stopped the translation side when they brought in the post-editing. Nov 19

I was very disillusioned by the involvement of the big player in MT development. I did do some translation before they switched to asking for post-editing, but I won't be involved in improving their MT, especially when I'm not even being paid!

Instead, I switched to only doing two things: (1) I evaluate translators' samples in the FR>EN pair (lots and lots of them!) so that the translations that arrive where they're needed aren't abysmal, and (2) I occasionally proofread/edit text
... See more
I was very disillusioned by the involvement of the big player in MT development. I did do some translation before they switched to asking for post-editing, but I won't be involved in improving their MT, especially when I'm not even being paid!

Instead, I switched to only doing two things: (1) I evaluate translators' samples in the FR>EN pair (lots and lots of them!) so that the translations that arrive where they're needed aren't abysmal, and (2) I occasionally proofread/edit text that has been written directly in English, for example recently there were the English profiles of some influential local women (somewhere in Africa) to be polished.
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Christophe Delaunay  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 17:07
Member (2011)
Spanish to French
+ ...
@Sheila Wilson Nov 20

The same happened to me... until I had the opportunity to see the work of a fellow Italian translator doing En > FR translation. And then her work wasn't even proofread. Pathetic translations. I could then fathom the depth of the whole joke. I quit.

 

writeaway  Identity Verified
French to English
+ ...
I also stopped providing free translations Nov 20

I stopped after I was asked to do (and did) a De-En contract for free for someone creating a one-off matrix for the same association I expected to 'donate' my translation to and getting paid €5000 (yes, five grand) for their efforts. It made me feel like a chump. I am all for helping out good causes but TWB is anything but, imo.

 


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