Thursday, March 15, 2012

CVs, Translation Databases, and Online Privacy

A very hard-working and experienced colleague discovered today that her very lengthy and distinguished CV had been copied lock, stock, and barrel by one of the little worms that populate the glorious online localization world. She took it pretty hard. She is very upset. I understand how she feels. It is like a violation of your privacy. Of your professional identity.

I had a similar experience a few years back. Out of the blue, I received this haughty message from some paper pusher in the European Central Bank telling me they were sorry to report that they would not consider me for something or other. I was a little peeved to be rejected for a position I didn’t even apply for. Which is a little weird and irrational, I know. Why should I give a flying flip that I was rejected for a position I didn’t even need or apply for?

The thing is, at those points, your lizard brain kicks in. After all, there is enough rejection in the world: social, sexual, professional, artistic… Who the heck needs unsolicited rejection? I mean really! Every single struggling actor says the same thing. “The hard part is the rejection.” Even successful actors get rejected more often than they are hired.

So I took it out on the snooty central bank drone (the attitude of some in-house financial translators, especially in northern Europe, is enough to raise your blood pressure…). I’m ashamed to say that I made insinuations about legal action just to get mine back. The thing is that I scared that poor, stupid woman into checking with the bank’s legal department to see whether there was a basis for action (of course, I had no intention of suing anybody). A few days later, a lawyer from the ECB got in touch with me to say that I had no basis for action because I had posted my CV on an online database. By then, the irritation I felt toward the original drone had subsided. But now the cause for embarrassment was double: the first was that I had scared the willies out of the original woman; the second one was that the lawyer was right. How can I complain if I uploaded my professional identity online? I basically gave CV thieves every single iota of information they needed to invade my privacy.

So, yes, there are all sorts of scumbags on the Internet. But what steps have you taken to protect not just your identity but the essentials of your personal biography? A few practical suggestions (believe me, I realize there is precious little of that in this blog):

1.- Consider password-protected pdfs for your online CVs.
2.- Do not publish personal information such as birth dates and addresses on your online profiles that are also used for verification of bank accounts (for people from Spanish-speaking countries, be very stingy with the use of your mother’s maiden name, which is used in other parts of the world for ID verification; a double-barreled last name is an easy way to impress people who don’t speak Spanish, but dangerous).
3.- Publish only a summarized CV. Maybe you can add a note that you will send a more detailed CV upon request.
4.- Give serious thought to Kevin Lossner’s frequent advice to shy away from More successful translators have a modest online presence. There is a reason for that (and not just generational).
5.- Rethink in general your attitude toward an online presence. Become more sophisticated in the way you let it all hang out online.
6.- Do not swallow the current dogma about social media. It is neither as game-changing nor as indispensable for freelance professionals or businesses as the current wave of propaganda claims. Social media is basically cheap entertainment. Tweeting is not marketing, just as “Angry Birds” is not mental exercise.
7.- My personal little (infantile) rebellion against the algorithm: systematically lie on online databases and surveys that ask you for your information for free.
8.- Experiment with privacy and social media abstinence.

I have personally decided to heed Kevin’s frequent admonitions and not renew my ProZ membership this year when renewal time comes around. I will also erase my data from the site (although I suspect that ProZ’s terms of service are now like those of Facebook and they have a right to greedily hoard my personal information until the Sun collapses upon itself). is now for all intents and purposes mainly a price comparison tool that reduces thousands of people to a single per-word rate. And, secondly, it is also a comparison database for information thieves. As in so many online social websites, YOU are the product. On, you are fishing, gutting, icing, packaging, shipping, and exhibiting yourself on a fishmonger’s counter so that the mass of shady online middlemen and agencies can peruse you more easily. With the amazing downside that ProZ isn’t even free.

Once again, as occurs in almost every one of my blog posts, we have to return to Jaron Lanier and You Are not a Gadget. We have to abandon the childish, naïve notion that we can live our lives publicly and online in the same way that we live our non-digital lives. Access to a database of thousands of freelancers is a double-edged sword, as I wrote in Whenever I Hear Agency Owners Griping About Translators

We have to grow up and become more sophisticated in the way we use the Internet (and the way in which we let the Internet use us). We must rethink the way in which we take our personalities and upload them to a database for the easier consumption of sleazy advertisers and crappy agencies. We must think twice before we jump into and make it easier for Low Quality Translation companies to reduce us all to the lowest common denominator.

We have to grow up, period. The dogmas about online connectivity bringing forth a new world are nothing more than the post-modern incarnation of simplistic, medieval beliefs about the end of the world.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center, and H.B.O. International. To contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. You can also join his LinkedIn network by visiting the profile or follow him on Twitter.


Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca) said...

Thanks for the interesting post Miguel!
A few years back I did an "ego search" on Google and discovered a site that featured a cover letter(!) along with clients and rates that I had sent in 2005 to a translation agency (I had no idea they would become a weird online database for translators). It took me 2 months and several threats for legal action to get them to remove my "profile" from their site.
Of course I wasn't the only one in there. All the "translator profiles" are emails sent by translators replying to a request by an agency (or so they thought).
And the best of all: you can see all the translator data, but if you want to contact any of them, you have to pay a fee to the agency for them to provide you with the translator's email. And the translators have no idea...
There's simply no privacy in this time and age, but we can still do our best to protect whatever we can.

Gueibor said...

As well informed and up-to-date as I would like to fancy myself, there are lines I don't like to cross.

They are not a clearly defined lines and I typically perceive them at a gut level, which is why I'm often beset by doubt - am I doing the right thing?
Shouldn't I be networking more, even though I'm skipping sleep on real actual work?
Shouldn't I be aggressively marketing myself, even though I'm repelled by aggressive marketing as a consumer?
Shouldn't I -this is a big one- be constantly aiming at Perpetual Growth Forever?
Shouldn't I be aiming for more?

These are my doubts.
More often than not they get swept aside by yet another deadline, but it's refreshing sometimes to find a post like this one (not to mention your entire blog), and see my gut feelings so elegantly expressed and substantiated.

Thanks a lot for that.