Tesla ensures that the cameras installed on board the cars serve only as an aid to drivers, and privacy is closely guarded. However, according to Reuters based on conversations with a dozen or so former employees of the company, not everything in this case could be consistent with the manufacturer’s declarations.
Reuters contacted more than 300 Tesla employees who have worked for the company over the past nine years and have been involved in the development of the autonomous driving system. A dozen or so agreed to answer the questions, each of them on condition of anonymity.
Interviews conducted by the agency’s journalists indicate that Tesla’s assurances to drivers that “their privacy is and always will be extremely important” and the cameras are “designed from the ground up to protect privacy” may not be true.
Recordings of accidents
According to Reuters, between 2019 and 2022, Tesla employees shared with each other, via an internal system, messages with videos and photos recorded by cameras from customers’ cars. Some of them were embarrassing for customers. One former employee described a video of a man approaching a car completely naked.
Reuters reports that employees were also supposed to share various road events, such as accidents. According to one former employee, they shared a video of a Tesla traveling at high speed in a built-up area hitting a child riding a bicycle. It showed how the child was flying in one direction and his bike in the other direction. Tesla employees in the California office sent it to each other like a cat meme.
Although Tesla assures customers that “the camera footage remains anonymous and is not linked to you or your vehicle,” seven former Tesla employees told Reuters that the program they used allowed them to know the location of the recordings, which could lead to the disclosure of where Tesla’s owner lived.
“We were able to look into people’s garages and private properties,” said another former employee. – Let’s say a Tesla customer had something in the garage that was distinctive. People would post that kind of stuff,” he added.
Tesla and Musk do not answer questions
Reuters asked questions to both Tesla and Elon Musk in its video privacy report. However, neither the boss nor the company gave any answers.
The agency notes that it was unable to obtain any of the photos or videos. Former employees claimed they did not keep them.
At the same time, it was also impossible to determine whether this practice continues today, or how widespread it is. Furthermore, some former employees contacted said the only sharing they observed was for legitimate business purposes, such as seeking help from colleagues or supervisors.
“Any normal person would be terrified of it”
David Choffnes, executive director of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute at Northeastern University in Boston, called the sharing of sensitive videos and photos by Tesla employees “morally reprehensible.”
An FTC spokesman told Reuters that he did not comment on individual companies or their conduct.
Main photo source: Grisha Bruev / Shutterstock