TikTok stole my voice, says woman behind viral text-to-speech feature

·3 min read
Beverly Standing said she had not been told her voice would be used on the app - Beverly Standing
Beverly Standing said she had not been told her voice would be used on the app - Beverly Standing

Her voice is instantly recognisable to millions of TikTok users, but until recently, Beverly Standing had no idea she was part of the app.

Ms Standing, a professional voice actor in Ontario, Canada, is better known as the “voice of TikTok”, the computer generated speech that narrates thousands of videos on the app.

Since launching in late 2020, TikTok’s text-to-speech feature has become one of its most viral features, giving the effect of having a virtual assistant like Siri narrating a user’s videos.

But Ms Standing, whose recordings made for a different company in 2018 were used to build the feature, says she never gave permission for her voice to be used.

She is now suing TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a US court, and seeking damages.

“I was dumbfounded when I first found out,” said Ms Standing. “I thought ‘this is wild, I’m the voice of TikTok’. But that’s not right, I’m not getting paid for it.”

Ms Standing said she had made the voice recordings for the Chinese Institute of Acoustics, a state-backed research organisation, via a representative in Edinburgh. She said she had recorded around 10,000 sentences for what she was told was a language translation service.

She said she had been paid a “decent amount” for the work, but that there had been no mention that it might be sold on or licensed.

TikTok - AP
TikTok - AP

Ms Standing, who said she had only found out about her voice being on the app when a friend had sent her a video, said she had repeatedly had friends and family members show her TikTok videos featuring the voice, and was concerned it would affect her career of providing voice overs for adverts, training videos and narration.

“No matter what I do, I believe this is going to affect my business. And I think it’s important for the voiceover industry, to say to the companies out there, they can’t do this. This is my product, and you’re using it without permission.”

She said the text-to-speech feature allowed users to type obscene phrases, which would then result in a computer simulation of her voice saying them.

Ms Standing’s lawsuit, filed in New York last week, claims damages for “the emotional distress of having her likeness exploited without [her] consent; [her] loss of the ability to control the dissemination of her likeness; and [her] loss of the ability to control the association of her likeness.”

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TikTok has said it has more than 100m users in the US, and is believed to have many more millions worldwide, with estimates suggesting it could have 1bn users this year. Ms Standing’s voice is used in the North American versions of the app, with different accents in other regions such as the UK.

A TikTok spokesperson said it did not comment on ongoing litigation. The Chinese Institute of Acoustics did not respond to a request for comment.

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