Verifying identity for crowdsourced translation: Moving forward

“The simple definition of globalization is the interweaving of markets, technology, information systems, and telecommunications networks in a way that is shrinking the world from a size medium to a size small.”

-Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat

The United States government, too, is operating in a more globalized environment than ever before. From intelligence gathering to global crisis response to tweets written in foreign languages, international communication is a constant. More than 40 U.S. agencies focus specifically on international relations and defense. In addition, the number of people in the United States who speak a language other than English at home has increased 140 percent since 1980, numbering 55.4 million, according to a 2010 Census report.

 For foreign and domestic projects, translation is an ongoing need. Yet both the government and private enterprises face a growing problem in the field of translation. A recent Common Sense Advisory report points out that the global supply of qualified professional translators cannot meet the ever-growing demand for content translation. Organizations are faced with two choices: either compete for ever-scarcer human translation resources, or turn to new technologies in order to complete their translation projects.

Machine Translation and Crowdsourcing

In the 21st century, professional human translators are no longer the sole viable option for processing content into new languages. Two newer technologies, machine translation and crowdsourcing, can be used to supplement translation efforts.

Machine translation, which is generally inexpensive, can instantly translate basic or low-priority information well enough for a reader to understand it. For example, if an information agent wants to screen an Arabic website in order to decide whether or not it warrants deeper scrutiny, machine translation will help that agent understand the basic gist of it.

If the agent decides that he or she wants to read some of the blog posts with the appropriate nuances and context, crowdsourcing the translations can provide a more accurate result. Because there are many people involved in crowd translation, subject matter experts are more likely to occur within the crowd.  Workers will refine the content until the translation is accurate and contextual. The crowd is a high-quality, often lower-cost alternative to hiring a professional translator. If our agent wants to verify the translation is accurate to a specific standard an additional review can be done with a professional translator with appropriate certification.

What’s the Hold Up?

This three-tiered approach to translation, which customizes the resource to the job, is a time- and cost-effective alternative to solely using professional translators. But many agencies have hesitated to use crowdsourcing solutions due to hurdles around identity verification. While procedures and practices around Identity Assurrance and Federated Identity Management attempt to manage the identity and trust of IT users and devices across organizations, many of these procedures are still time consuming, costly, or continue to raise privacy concerns. Events like the Internet Identity Workshop seek to explore this issue further. The fact is, government agencies have responsibility to verify the identity of each individual in a crowd before assigning projects, but today the costs of this process can still outweigh additional savings from crowdsourcing.

Vetting Candidates Appropriately to Harness the Benefits of Crowdsourcing

In order for crowdsourcing to live up to its potential benefits there has to be a way to seamlessly and effectively ensure identity verification for government agencies. Government organizations are beholden to regulations such as USCIS I-9, HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, which outline specific requirements for employment of individuals and handling of data. So how can government agencies, with their regulations and varying levels of required security, effectively verify the identities of a crowd of strangers?

The answer lies in two places, context and technology:

1) Context. For government agencies, identity verification needs to happen on a gradient. Vetting candidates is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.  Some low-sensitivity projects, such as web contests, may only require the translator to have a valid email address in order to be qualified. More sensitive assignments may require background checks and additional information, such as proof of financial standing or criminal background verification. Yet currently, agencies tend to conduct extensive background checks by third party contractors when a much simpler, less expensive identity verification system would suffice.

2) Technology. The government would be more amenable to crowdsourcing if a simpler and more streamlined vetting process were in place that integrated easily with the crowd hiring process. The vacation rental site AirBnB, which makes users verify their phone number and give the system access to their Facebook profiles, is a great example of effective, fast identity verification, leveraging social media to confirm identity. The people who rent out properties immediately know that the guests renting from them are who they say they are. Syria Tracker uses a similar “user-centric identity” management scheme but for crowdsourced disaster and war event tracking. This kind of built-in social media and phone identity authentication can work well for government translation that, while sensitive, is not so confidential as to require a deep background check.

Translation, the Crowd and the Flat World

The government needs translation; if anything, that need is only growing over time. Today’s global landscape requires the fast, effective turnaround of ever-changing content that needs to be shared across countries and multi-lingual communities. Translation is crucial to keeping this process running smoothly. Agencies could be saving a lot of time and resources by fully harnessing a three-tiered system of translation, using not only professional individuals but also machine programs and crowdsourced translators. They need to take advantage of resources like social media and rapidly changing technology to ensure a streamlined yet effective process of identity verification that still meets security needs. Once the government finds a way for crowdsourced workers to comply with its regulatory and identity verification requirements, the sky will become the limit for real-time, effective international communication.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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