And it’s still true that when we hear a woman’s voice as part of a tech product, we may not know who she is, if she really is, and if so, if she agreed to have her voice become that way. used. Many TikTok users assumed that the text-to-speech voice they heard in the app was not a real person. But it was: It belonged to a Canadian voice actor named Bev Standing, and Standing had never authorized ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, to use it.
standing sued the company in May, claiming that the way her voice was used — specifically the way users could get him to say anything, including profanity — harmed her brand and her ability to earn a living. Her voice that came to be known as “that voice on TikTok” that could make you say whatever you wanted brought recognition without compensation and, she claimed, damaged her ability to get voice work.
When TikTok abruptly removed its voice, Standing found out the same way the rest of us do: by hearing the change and seeing the reporting about it. (TikTok has not commented to the press about the vote change.)
Those familiar with the story of Apple’s Siri may be feeling a bit of déjà vu: Susan Bennett, the woman who pronounced the original Siri, didn’t know either that her voice was used for that product until it came out. Bennett was eventually replaced as the ‘American English Female Voice’ and Apple never publicly acknowledged her. Since then, Apple has written nondisclosure clauses into voice actors’ contracts and recently claimed that its new voice “fully software generated‘, eliminating the need to give anyone credit.
These incidents reflect a disturbing and common pattern in the tech industry. The way people’s achievements are valued, recognized and paid often reflect their position in the wider society, not their actual contributions. One of the reasons the names of Bev Standing and Susan Bennett are now widely known online is that they are extreme examples of how women’s work is being obliterated, even if it’s out there for all to see or hear.
When women in tech open up, they’re often told to shut up, especially if they’re women of color. Timnit Gebru, a PhD in computer science from Stanford, was recently expelled from google, where she co-led an AI ethics team after talking about her concerns related to the company’s major language models. Her co-lead, Margaret Mitchell (PhD from the University of Aberdeen with a focus on natural language generation), was also removed from her position after talking about the firing of Gebru. Elsewhere in the industry, whistleblowers like: Sophie Zhang on Facebook, Susan Fowler at Uber, and many other women were silenced and often fired as a direct or indirect result of trying to do their job and mitigate the damage they saw in the tech companies where they worked.
Even women who found startups can be wiped out in real time, and the problem is again worse for women of color. Rumman Chowdhury, a PhD from the University of California, San Diego, and the founder and former CEO of Parity, a company focused on ethical AI, saw her role in the history of her own company minimized by the New York Times.