Transcription Provider Rev.com Battles Media Firestorm After Freelancer Rate Cut

Transcription is not translation; but, as a business, the two share a number of characteristics. Providers of both services mostly rely on a large, freelance workforce, operate under tight deadlines, and integrate rapidly advancing machine learning technology to improve productivity.

So, in a sense, Rev is a business operating under similar dynamics, in a similar market to that of many translation and localization startups. Headquartered in Austin, Rev offers a platform where Revvers (what freelancers on Rev.com are called) can work on transcription, video captioning, foreign subtitles and, to a much smaller extent, translation. A Revver takes a job by going on the platform, checking out the job specs, and claiming the job if they wish, or returning the job to the queue if not.

Rev found itself in the center of a maelstrom when, on November 8, 2019, it lowered job-pricing rates for freelancers hired through its platform. Revvers took to social media, complaining that the announcement of lower rates was poorly handled; that is, through an internal Rev.com forum that Revvers say they hardly ever check. One early tweet had logged 5,700 retweets at press time.

In response, even Rev clients began to weigh in, expressing disappointment — and rival transcription services, including companies better known for translation, saw an opportunity to offer Rev clients an alternative.

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Gizmodo was quick to jump on the tweets, publishing three articles in as many days. Medium news site OneZero also jumped into the fray, writing that a number of Revvers voiced concerns over Rev.com’s security because they had “worked on recordings that contained personal information and trade secrets.” (In itself, this is not a problem and par for the course in any business that outsources confidential content to a freelance workforce.) But until Rev amended its security policy in 2018, any Revver could download client files even if they were not taking that client’s job, according to the same article.

The OneZero article went on to say that Rev emailed Revvers in October 2018 to tell them they were removing the option to download files because of “recent breaches of our confidentiality agreement” — breaches which were never publicly announced.

In the wake of the frenzy, Slator contacted the company’s PR Manager, Safeena Walji, who explained: “It is the nature of our business that Revvers have access to client information as they transcribe the media files provided. We trust Revvers to keep client information secure, and we are confident that the nondisclosure agreements all Revvers sign are adequate to provide appropriate safeguards to our clients. All files remain on Rev’s servers throughout the order and transcription process. Revvers cannot download or save customers’ files.”

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On the question of lower job pricing, Walji said, “We are exploring ways in which we can charge customers higher prices and, therefore, pay our freelancers more.”

Rev CEO Jason Chicola, for his part, has met the backlash head on and with unusual transparency, sending a statement explaining his side to Revvers through an internal forum on Rev.com and via email.

In his statement, published in full by Gizmodo, Chicola acknowledged that they “got a few things wrong” — among which was announcing job-pricing changes in an internal forum rather than via email, and not giving freelancers a venue to air their concerns before changes were rolled out. “In hindsight we should have taken more time on this,” Chicola wrote.

The CEO admitted, “We’ve done a poor job on this as a company. This email/post is a first attempt at better communication, but I will follow up it tomorrow with a live video Q&A.” That Q&A streamed live over YouTube on November 15, 2019.

The Rev saga serves as a cautionary tale for translation and localization startups. It reminds them how critical it is to constantly engage their freelance workforce and how important it is to safeguard the confidentiality of customer content.