Author Archives: Terena Bell

Terena Bell

About Terena Bell

Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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Google Translate Causes Vaccine Mishap

Language in Business, Language in the News, Localization Basics, Personalization and Design, Translation, Translation Technology, Uncategorized

Last week, MultiLingual reported on a Virginia Department of Health website translation error that incorrectly told Spanish speakers they don’t need coronavirus vaccines. New information from Richmond, Virginia newspaper The Virginian-Pilot now reveals how this error came to be.

“The Virginia Department of Health’s main sources for translating critical covid-19 and vaccine information are three marketing agencies that don’t list translation services on their websites and Google Translate,” Sabrina Moreno reports, pointing out that both translation reliability experts and Google itself caution medical providers not to use the free online tool for medical translations. Google translated “the vaccine is not required” as “the vaccine is not necessary” on the Department of Health’s frequently asked questions website.

In the United States, Hispanics have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus with higher death and hospitalization rates than white Americans. Ensuring this group has access to covid-19 vaccines is of particular importance in Virginia where — as of January 13th — Latinos only accounted for 9 percent of those receiving a dose despite making up 21 percent of the commonwealth’s covid-19 hospitalizations.

“Immigrant advocates and certified translators said the state’s failure to prioritize adequate translation showed Virginia’s lack of investment in populations already facing a trust gap in the health care system and language barriers that have historically limited access to medical care,” writes Moreno.

Luis Oyola, director of organizing for Legal Aid Justice Center in Richmond, says he’s been warning the state of what Moreno calls “the desperate need for translated and culturally competent materials” since March. “The government is reaping what they sowed,” Oyola told The Virginian-Pilot

The government, however, continues to stand beside its mistranslation. “Many Spanish speakers do read this form as it was intended — namely, to make clear the vaccine is not mandatory and therefore will not be forced on anyone,” director of communications Maria Reppas told local television station ABC 8News.

Nearly 1.4 million Virginians speak a language other than English at home. More than half of these people speak Spanish.

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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Vaccine Saves Language and Lives, NPR Reports

Geopolitics, Language, Language in the News, Travel and Culture

Getting vaccinated against covid-19 may do more than save your life. It could also save your language. That’s what Cherokee schoolteacher Meda Nix told National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview last week.

A member of the Cherokee Nation — a sovereign tribal government within the geographic boundaries of the United States — Nix grew up in an English and Cherokee speaking home, then studied Cherokee later as an adult. She is one of only around 2500 people who speak the language fluently today.

Native Americans — including the Cherokee — have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the US Center for Disease Control, contracting the disease at a rate 3.5 times higher than white Americans. The Cherokee Nation specifically has seen more than 11,000 coronavirus cases and 63 deaths. At least 20 of those who passed were Cherokee speakers, per NPR.

Initially, Nix had not planned on being vaccinated. Then tribal leaders held a Zoom call with covid-19 specialists, urging Cherokees to step up — not just for their lives but for their culture.

Cherokee is a member of the Iroquoian language family. Its writing system does not use an alphabet. Rather, 85 distinct characters represent the sounds used for speaking the language with one character assigned to each discrete syllable found in a word. For this and other reasons, the US Secretary of State considers Cherokee to be a Class IV language. Language classifications refer to the average amount of time required for English speakers to achieve proficiency when studying full time. At 88 weeks, Class IV languages are the most difficult group.

Nix teaches Cherokee to fifth graders, starting with vocabulary she learned from her mother about the natural world — such as the names for trees and birds. NPR reports that “by preserving her language, she is really preserving ‘everything. Our culture. Our beliefs. Our ways.'”

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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SBA Closes Comments on Controversial Proposal

Business News, Interpretation, Translation, Uncategorized

Comments are now closed on a controversial proposal from the US Small Business Administration (SBA). Rule SBA-2020-0055-0001 seeks to raise the amount language services companies (LSP’s) could bill a year and still be considered small businesses. Revenue classifications are used by the US government to determine whether enterprises are eligible for small business set-asides — a select number of government contracts awarded to companies that bill less than 8 million USD a year. If successful, the measure would raise this amount to 20 million USD — a threshold where Lindsey Cambardella, chief executive officer of Translation Station in Chamblee, Georgia, says truly “small” LSP’s would no longer be able to compete.

“Arguments may be made that businesses smaller than $8m may not be able to handle larger contracts, but as a company that falls into the $3m – $5m range, I can confirm that we are prepared to handle large projects,” Cambardella wrote on the SBA site, “I do not believe we would be as competitive if we were facing companies as large as $20m.”

Small business classification isn’t just important for companies looking to work with the US federal government. “It also matters for the large primes,” says Bill Rivers, lobbyist for the Association of Language Companies (ALC). Primes are major corporations that win larger government contracts, then outsource part of that work to small businesses. It’s not uncommon for the US federal government to award translation jobs to primes that don’t have any translation capabilities. As a result, this work sometimes trickles down to small business LSP’s.

Initially, ALC was in favor of the change, with Rivers noting in an October 8 blog that raising the amount was one of ALC’s top seven priorities. But as Cambardella and other members have spoken out against the plan, the association has changed its position. “ALC is taking a neutral position now. We had started out supporting this, but as you see, there are a lot of smaller companies that feel they wouldn’t benefit,” Rivers says.

In a December 22 email that went out to members, the ALC explained that “[t]he SBA must consider each and every comment.” Comments are also entered into the permanent record that accompanies any new regulation. “If the regulation is challenged in court, these comments will help guide the courts in their review,” according to ALC.

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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Want a Vaccine? Better Interpret for a Hospital Direct

freelancing, Interpretation, Uncategorized

To get a vaccine at University of North Carolina (UNC) Health, you need to work for the hospital directly. That’s what Alan Wolf, director of news, had to say when MultiLingual emailed to congratulate the hospital on giving a medical interpreter one of the state’s first covid-19 vaccines. On December 15, Spanish linguist Jorge Gutierrez received UNC Health – Chapel Hill’s second shot of Pfizer’s BNT162b2 — the first of two coronavirus vaccines currently available in the United States.

Gutierrez has been held up as an exemplar by the language services community, as many interpreters — freelancers in particular – have been left to wonder whether US state governments will include medical interpreters in their definition of frontline workers. In the United States, each state determines in which order whom will receive the two-dose vaccinations. The general consensus has been essential medical personnel go first. The broader concern is will hospitals and governments remember interpreters are essential.

Wolf says UNC Health wanted to make sure interpreters were included early “because of their important role in caring for covid patients. Jorge was chosen to represent the [interpreter services] department because of his hard and compassionate work during the pandemic and because he had completed the sign-up process and was available on that first afternoon.” Gutierrez interprets primarily in the hospital’s medical intensive care unit (MICU).

Between the Chapel Hill facility where Gutierrez works and its Raleigh and Hillsborough locations, UNC Health employs 30 Spanish interpreters. It also directly contracts what Wolf calls “a number of per-diem interpreters that we use on an as-needed basis,” as well as with language services providers (LSP’s). Both employee and freelance interpreters will be eligible for the vaccine — if they report directly to the hospital that is. Interpreters who work through a language services provider (LSP) will not. “We would expect their agency/interpreting company to cover their interpreters,” says Wolf. By press, he was yet to respond to a follow-up email from MultiLingual asking if UNC Health plans to provide its LSP’s guidance in how to do this.

Bill Rivers, lobbyist for Association of Language Companies (ALC), says, “It would be a travesty for a health care organization to fob this off on the language service companies.” ALC is currently partnering with the American Translators Association on a letter to send the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 56 US state and territorial health departments to that effect.

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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North Carolina Interpreter Vaccinated

Interpretation, Language in the News, Technology, Uncategorized

Earlier today, MultiLingual asked an important question: Will interpreters receive covid vaccines? In North Carolina at least, we have our answer.

Spanish interpreter Jorge Gutierrez was among the first at University of North Carolina Medical Center to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which arrived at the Chapel Hill hospital Tuesday morning. The hospital received 2,925 doses; the vaccine requires two doses in order to be effective, which means 1,462 people can be treated. WTVD — the local ABC television news affiliate — reports 30 of these will go to UNC Medical Center employees. Gutierrez interprets primarily in the hospital’s medical intensive care unit (MICU).

“It’s a day full of hope,” he told the station.

As coronavirus spread, the language industry has been tempted to rely more heavily on telephone-based interpreting (OPI). But as Gutierrez told Chapel Hill radio station WCHL, coronavirus has given him a brand new appreciation for the level of care that only on-site medical interpreters can provide: “One of the things this [pandemic] has shown us is the importance of having someone who speaks your language helping you communicate at the bedside with providers. It’s something you cannot substitute that easily or complete with the telemedicine efforts we’ve seen happening here.”

Watch Gutierrez receiving his shot in this video at the 1:42 mark and read MultiLingual‘s prior coverage of interpreter vaccine access here.

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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Will Interpreters Receive Vaccine?

freelancing, Interpretation, Uncategorized

This week, doctors began administering the first of two anticipated coronavirus vaccines in the United States, BNT162b2. Unlike the United Kingdom where initial non-trial recipients were elderly patients, the Americans first in line are health care workers. Will this include interpreters?

Because of the way the US government is structured, each of the country’s 50 states has discretion in determining its own vaccine rollout plan. New York’s first non-trial dose of BNT162b2 went to an intensive care unit nurse in Queens, one of the New York City boroughs hit hardest by covid-19. In Kentucky, the chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health took the first shot. Mara Youdelman, managing attorney for the National Health Law Program, says vaccine availability for interpreters “is also going to play out state-by-state as it’s the states who I believe are ultimately deciding priorities and distribution early on.”

“From my armchair epidemiologist’s perspective, everyone in the building gets the shot,” says Bill Rivers, lobbyist for the Association of Language Companies — “front desk personnel, security, maintenance, etc, would all need to be inoculated. [Interpreters] included.”

Youdelman says, “I agree with Bill that anyone working physically in a hospital, in whatever role, should be a front-line worker and first in line for a vaccine.”

Problem is, there may not be enough. To date, the United States has only purchased 100 million doses; the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses per person to work. As such, reports The New York Times, “A majority of the first injections…are expected to go to high-risk health care workers. In many cases, this first, limited delivery would not supply nearly enough doses to inoculate all of the doctors, nurses, security guards, receptionists and other workers who risk being exposed to the virus every day” — including interpreters.

Then there’s the question of in-house versus freelance. While Youdelman and Rivers agree both classifications would need the vaccine, administering it is another issue. In the past, hospitals have pushed Joint Commission-required inoculations off on the language services provider (LSP) or onto the individual contractor to arrange. Smaller LSPs may not have the first clue in how to go about securing vaccines for their interpreters — not to mention the added administration headache. “It would be a travesty for a health care organization to fob this off on the language service companies,” Rivers says, “You can bet your a** that every doctor on site will get the vaccination, even if a great many are not actually employees of the health care facility.”

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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COVID Lawsuit Implicates Interpreters

Business News, Interpretation, Language in Business, Language in the News, Uncategorized

Interpreters working for meat manufacturer Tyson Foods are now involved in a covid-related lawsuit against the company. The suit, filed September 23rd, alleges Tyson knowingly exposed people working at its Waterloo, Iowa pork plant to the disease, resulting in more than 1,000 positive cases and in three employee deaths.

New this month, an amended complaint to the suit alleges that interpreters may have played a role in keeping essential outbreak information from limited-English staff. These interpreters were in-house — not freelancers — and the court filing does not include which language(s) they spoke or whether they still work at the plant today. These interpreters are also not individually named. Instead, the complaint focuses exclusively on the role it says they played, claiming that

  • In early April, interpreters attended a closed door meeting with plant manager Tom Hart and human resources director James Hook,
  • Hart and Hook “directed the interpreters to tell non-English speaking employees: ‘everything is fine,’ and there is no outbreak at the plant,” that there were “no confirmed cases,” and that the county health department “had ‘cleared’ the plant” — things the complaint says were untrue,
  • Management “explicitly forbid interpreters from discussing COVID-19” outside of these approved denials.

After this and other meetings, the amendment claims “most interpreters were removed from the plant floor.” Whether Tyson pulled them or individual interpreters made their own decisions not to work, the filing doesn’t say. In the United States, there are agreed-upon codes of ethics for medical and legal interpreters, but not for those operating in a manufacturing or business setting. One thing these existing codes all have in common, though, is accuracy and completeness. According to the National Council on Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC), a professional interpreter “strives to render the message accurately, conveying the content and spirit of the original message, taking into consideration its cultural context.” Ethically, it’s not to any plant interpreter — working at Tyson or anywhere else — to add to or take away from the original language message.

Note the NCIHC code does allow for intervention, though: “When the patient’s health, well-being, or dignity is at risk, the interpreter may be justified in acting as an advocate. Advocacy is understood as an action taken on behalf of an individual that goes beyond facilitating communication, with the intention of supporting good health outcomes. Advocacy must only be undertaken after careful and thoughtful analysis of the situation and if other less intrusive actions have not resolved the problem.”

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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Umlauts and circumflexes and tildes, oh my

Localization, Technology

In localization circles, we frequently talk about the need to include fonts in what gets internationalized: localization works beyond translation in making sure a source message is correctly conveyed in the new, target market, so of course the work includes any visual element with meaning. Fonts have their own subliminal expressions — in the United States, for example, Times New Roman is considered a little stodgy, Courier New ironically old. But more pragmatically, certain fonts simply don’t work in other languages. Take Traditional Chinese: use a typography too thick or bolded and the actual character could change. Anything below 10.5 point and even unbolded copy becomes impossible to read.

If managing the typeface a client’s message is in sounds hard, try localizing the font itself. That’s the concern our company faced when it created Lionbridge Sans, the company’s new corporate font. Used for marketing, sales and internal communications, it turns one year old September 5.

If 2018 was the year of the dog in China, in the United States it was the year of bespoke fonts, with The Verge reporting that no tech company makes it big until after it’s developed one. The article focused on Netflix launching Netflix Sans, mentioning the font followed Apple’s release of San Francisco, Samsung’s SamsungOne and Google’s Product Sans. And, yes, in case those “sans” made you wonder: Lionbridge, Samsung and Google’s typefaces all find their roots in Comic Sans.

If fonts have cultural meaning, then in American design circles, Comic Sans comes with a smile. Its childlike simplicity makes it the font typophiles love to hate, but this simplicity is precisely what makes derivatives perfect for localization. Microsoft actually invented Comic Sans in 1994 with the express design of developing something less stodgy and more user-friendly than the Times New Roman it used at the time. Comic Sans’ thin strokes made it ideal for software user interfaces and had the helpful side effect of looking good in pictorial languages. “It’s a special font,” said Jaime Punishill, Lionbridge’s chief marketing officer. “It’s universal across mediums, universal across languages.”

A tagline localized into Lionbridge Sans in French.

That’s not to say localizing Lionbridge Sans was easy. Five internal departments partnered with design agency Vivaldi on every umlaut, circumflex and tilde. Not only was there stroke width to consider, but non-Roman languages understandably have their own writing systems, many Roman languages have letters that don’t appear in English and then there’s the whole issue of diacritics — a particular concern to Lionbridge’s Polish translator working on the font team. Getting the o-acute (ó) right was particularly tricky: written correctly, the tail of the accent must hit square in the letter’s middle. In early, pre-release drafts, a Lionbridge engineer noticed the capital Ñ was taller than entry settings in Excel allowed — something the company clearly needed to resolve for Spanish language spreadsheets.

A tagline localized into Lionbridge Sans in Korean.

Letter by letter, language by language, the details had to be worked through with in-country linguistic and design experts to get everything right.

“In today’s marketplace, branding and experience are more important than ever — and increasingly difficult to achieve,” Punishill said. “It’s one thing to say you’re brand internationalization experts.” But it’s another, trickier prospect to actually globalize your own brand.

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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The deep dish on Papa John’s approach to in-country review

Translation

Papa John’s ICR

Hank Enright Papa John’s ICR

I write a column in the MultiLingual print edition where clients share why they do — and don’t — buy professional translation. This issue, which just went live, features Hank Enright, director of international training at Papa John’s, an international pizza chain based in Louisville, Kentucky.

While discussing how Papa John’s chooses translation partners, which you can read about in the print edition, Enright additionally gave us an inside look at the company’s unique approach to in-country review (ICR). Papa John’s gamifies ICR, offering employees virtual cash for every error found.

Papa John’s gamifies ICR, offering employees virtual cash for every error found. Click To Tweet

Raised in Mexico to American parents, Enright considers himself fluent in English and Spanish. So he oversees translation between the two, performing a lot of the work himself. He’s says he’s not the only employee the company has translating, though: “When available,” Papa John’s relies on “internal resources to either translate, edit or proof content” into multiple languages: Enright translates Spanish, the company’s Beijing team reviews and edits Simplified Chinese, and the company’s new international business director handles Korean.

“For other languages — based on the volume to be translated or reviewed — we have had our native-speaking franchise business consultants provide feedback,” Enright says. “Where we do not have a native speaker, we have leveraged and partnered with the in-country franchise team as appropriate, and even on occasion spouses who have worked in the food and hospitality industry.”

“When you translate your own materials internally, you are your own customer, provider and editor,” he continues. “It can be tempting to not include a feedback cycle.” So Enright developed a reward system that encourages employees to find each other’s mistakes.

Eligible content includes menus, box labeling, leaflets, websites, collateral for new market openings and other marketing material. Documents are translated by the local franchise or marketing team, which then challenges Enright to find errors and typos. When Papa John’s expanded into Guatemala, Enright earned eight quetzales (around $1) from errors in a menu board panel. “I have yet to return to Guatemala to collect,” he jokes.

According to Enright, it works — for Guatemalan Spanish, at least. “By partnering with the local franchisee on material review, we launched the brand with coherent and properly translated materials, which is a win-win. Thanks to our expanding market needs and addition of new staff, we now use standardized templates to reduce or eliminate my well-intended revenue stream.”

Of course, paying employees to find errors in translation could incorrectly and negatively skew a client’s perception of translation quality: the method rewards quantity, after all, with no reward when errors aren’t found. And Papa John’s has systematically had a hard time finding a translation provider it’s pleased with — one reason Enright gives for why he translates so much personally.

To the company’s credit, though, one past provider made obvious gaffes — like translating “Give it your guts; it ain’t harder than that” as “Give your matured guts, anything harder than that.” In instances like these, Enright says, “It takes just as much time to edit a translation than to do it all internally.”

Regardless of who translates, he adds, “If not cross-checked, you can end up lost in translation or with an entirely different meaning.” Like any client, Papa John’s wants translations that are industry-aware and brand-specific. When the source content’s tricky, Enright says, “A translator can put forth their best effort but if a native speaking, subject matter expert does not proof and verify that the meaning behind the words is interpreted correctly, you will end up losing credibility and transferring incomplete or incorrect information.”

Papa John’s may have stopped offering staff money for uncovered mistakes, but that doesn’t mean the game isn’t still on for Enright: “I still have native speaking Spanish speakers and others reach out to me for translating, edit, proofing or correcting in Spanish and English…I take great pride and ownership in reviewing, correcting and editing Spanish language material. It is critical that the end product facing the franchisee or customer reflects professionalism and — as much as possible — does not seem as if it were translated from English.”

However your company handles ICR, Enright stresses that “proofing and editing [are] often not given the importance and time [they] deserve. The feedback cycle to the translator is vital to increasing the quality of future translations!”

Learn more about Papa John’s translation process and purchasing decisions in the current issue of MultiLingual.

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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Adobe announces a new, potentially horrifying level of personalization

Personalization and Design

“I was horrified.” That was reporter Eric Wood’s reaction to “unified profile” — the idea of collecting every online data point about a person into a single system. Modern consumers, says Adobe executive vice-president of marketing Brad Rencher, are “everywhere — they’re on mobile, social and they’re in your store. And they have multiple touchpoints including your loyalty programs, commerce systems, your support pages.” With that data spread out, it’s hard to personalize marketing across platforms. That’s why Rencher’s keynote at today’s Adobe Summit in Las Vegas focused on consolidating it into one profile tracking every data point about you.

Personalization began innocuously enough. Ideally, the approach helps both consumer and company. People get annoyed when they’re constantly presented with ads for stuff they’d never buy — no man, for example, wants a barrage of tampon ads. Audience precision clears out the junk. It also makes company operations more efficient: If businesses can get the right message to the right person and the right time, they’ll waste less time and make more money. In personalization, localization found an easy home: after all, what’s more personal than connecting in someone’s native language?

Adobe announces new personalization

But as I sit in the dark convention center listening to Rencher’s keynote, I have to ask: how personal is too personal? He starts talking about a woman who goes online to book a hotel, then hears the phone ring. Just as I would, she gets distracted, forgetting all about her en medias reservation. As someone who’s actually had this happen, and wound up paying double for the hotel as a result, I think, so far so good. Then Rencher begins to brag about how an ad for the hotel could follow her around — not just Google AdSense, the program that drops cookies in order to display bounceback ads on subsequent sites you visit, but Facebook display ads, texts — basically everything I use to communicate. Here, buy me, look at this, don’t you forget about me! Rencher sees a world with full integration of all your data everywhere — a single, unified profile where every data point about your life inevitably interacts. “How do we create a unified profile that enables you [the Adobe customer] to deliver a unified experience?” he asks.

It’s creepy.

And in Germany, it’s essentially illegal. The General Data Protection Regulation (EU/2016/679), more commonly known as GDPR, is a European regulation that shifts the definitions of personally identifiable information (PII) and what companies are allowed to do with it. Rencher calls GDPR the “four letters that will impact all of us.”

On July 5, 2017, Germany became first to adopt this standard. And just as your unified profile would follow you around, this European guidance is moving into other countries. US adoption begins May 25, 2018. Because translation companies are the ones personalizing websites, apps, and other data collection points, GDPR might come for localization next. The web, as we often say, is international, after all. You could be a New Zealand company translating into Ewe for a client in Brazil, but it doesn’t matter. As long as anyone in a GDPR-enforceable country can click on that translated site, this affects you.

A single, unified profile where every data point about your life inevitably interacts... Creepy. Click To Tweet

“How many of you in your organizations are able to recognize an inbound web hit is coming from Germany and be able to treat that data differently?” Rencher asks, “These are not easy challenges to solve if you’re dealing with and using legacy systems. Stitching all that data together can take months if not years.”

In addition to regulatory difficulties, Adobe also has a hard time dealing with the ethical implications of unified profile. In a post-keynote presser, reporters from NewsCorp, CMO Australia, IT Business, TechCrunch and others railed Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, chief technical officer Abhay Parasnis and Rencher, asking the same question about user privacy again and again.

After stressing that the onus of privacy protection falls on the user, Narayen said, “I think the rich number of questions around data and privacy really show that it’s front and center on people’s minds — on the enterprise’s mind.”

The ethics around data collection, whether people should opt in or out, and how well users truly understand the decision, are a topic for another day. But in the meantime, the localization industry should be thinking about how to prepare for a swingback. As more users turn off cookies and turn on ad blockers to keep AdSense et al from following, “personalization” could become a dirty word. And personalization is how we sell. If a swingback comes — if the broader public tires of ads or data collectors tracking them across platforms — will localization need a new message?

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Terena Bell is an independent journalist who writes for The Atlantic, Washington Post, Fast Company and others. She is former CEO of In Every Language.

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