Posted by: patenttranslator | December 16, 2010

Would You Like To Have Your Confidential Medical Information Sent At Random to 31 People on the Internet? Have It Translated!

Sounds kind of crazy? Maybe it does, but this is done all the time by some translation agencies and translators.

Case in point: Yesterday I received an e-mail from a translation agency that I never heard of before. The e-mail said (I am somewhat paraphrasing and omitting names): “We obtained your contact information through the ATA (American Translators Association) of which we are also a member. We have a project for translation for Monday, 9:00 AM. Document attached for your reference. Please respond only if you are available.  Kindly include your resume and most competative [sic] rate.”

Two pages of a medical report were attached, including a detailed description of the physical and neurological findings, the name of the patient, the case reference number and other identifying information including the name of the physician who issued the medical report. The report was about a month old.

I could see in the address line that the same e-mail was sent to 31 translators together with the document. To make sure that somebody will come up with a really lowball offer, I suppose it is a good idea to let potential translators know that there are 31 people competing for the same small piece of a pie, sort of like when day laborers, mostly illegal aliens, are competing at the parking lot in front of 7-Eleven for a job at five dollars an hour or whatever the going rate is for this kind of work these days.

I use the ATA database several times a year when I look for a translator who can translate a patent for me in a language that I don’t know. It is a good resource for me. This year for example I used it to find translators for Korean, Dutch and Danish patents. I hardly ever receive patents in these languages, but when I do, I am not going to tell my client to go somewhere else. They might stop sending me Japanese and German and French patents. So I spend a lot of time looking for a good translator a few times a year. But I would never send confidential medical information of a patient to dozens of people that I don’t know anything about. At least I hope that I would not do that.

Out of curiosity, I went to the website of the agency that does not believe in the concept of privacy of personal information. It was a typical website that does not really give anybody any real information about anything, other than claims such as “we translate from and into 100 languages” (wow!) and “we manage over 3,000 certified language professionals” (what is a language professional and who gets to certify a language professional here in the Wild West?) The website had the requisite photos of pretty young women typing on a laptop and intense looking, attentive young men who never translated anything and never will because the stock photos were supplied by an advertising agency to a website developer. The exact location of this “leading provider of language consulting services in the world!” (wow again!) is apparently a closely held secret, all you get is a P. O. Box Number.

The same day I also received a call about another translation from another agency that found my information in the ATA database. That is what the woman who called said. She also said that they usually pay about 15% less than the rate that I asked for, but she did agree to my rate and sent me the job which was an article from a medical journal. I went to the website of this agency and now I have a pretty good idea about the professional background and business philosophy of the people who sent me this particular translation. The website had a lot of factual information instead of the usual claims (“we are the best in the world”) and generic photos of glamorous looking pretty women which always make me remember Hedy Lamarr’s famous quip:”Any girl can be glamorous, all you have to do is stand still and look stupid”.

If anybody is interested, here is my tip for finding a good translator.

Step 1: Do not send an e-mail to dozens of people selected at random from a database, even if it is a fairly good database. Or if you think that you really have to do that, make sure that all the e-mail addresses are not shown in the address line. Some people might be offended.

Step 2: Find a translator who charges slightly more than the going rate and who can barely fit your translation into his or her schedule. You’ve got yourself a keeper.


  1. […] the time and I strongly believe that confidentiality of documents for translation must be protected as I write for instance in this blog. But many of the sections in the verbose agreements that I have been seeing recently are completely […]


  2. Alas, a translation broker has just broadcast the details of Mrs. I’s mastectomy to me and half the world to ask for quotes “At ‘X’ or lower”


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