Tesla employees allegedly shared customers’ sensitive video footage

It seems that lately not a week passes by without Tesla (or its eccentric founder) making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Austin ramsey 9 X3 Dmo EM64k unsplash

On 11 April, Reuters reported that the electric vehicle (EV) pioneer company was once again in hot water, this time over privacy issues.

Although Tesla Inc assures its millions of electric car owners that their privacy “is and will always be enormously important to us”, the latest scandal seems to indicate otherwise. The cameras it builds into vehicles to assist driving, it notes on its website, are “designed from the ground up to protect your privacy”.

But it has now come to light that between 2019 and 2022, groups of Tesla employees privately shared sometimes highly invasive videos and images recorded by customer’s car cameras via an internal messaging system, according to interviews by Reuters with nine former employees.

Some of the recordings caught Tesla customers in embarrassing situations. One ex-employee described a video of a man approaching a vehicle completely naked.

According to another employee, crashes and road-rage incidents were also shared. One crash video in 2021 showed a Tesla driving at high speed in a residential area hitting a child riding a bike. The child flew in one direction, the bike in another. The video spread through a Tesla office in San Mateo, California, via private one-on-one chats, “like wildfire”, the ex-employee said.

Other images were more mundane, such as pictures of dogs and funny road signs that employees made into memes by embellishing them with amusing captions or commentary, before posting them in private group chats. While some postings were only shared between two employees, others could be seen by scores of them, according to several ex-employees.

Tesla states in its online “Customer Privacy Notice” that its “camera recordings remain anonymous and are not linked to you or your vehicle”. But seven former employees told Reuters the computer program they used at work could show the location of recordings – which potentially could reveal where a particular Tesla owner lived.

One ex-employee also said that some recordings appeared to have been made when cars were parked and turned off. Several years ago, Tesla would receive video recordings from its vehicles even when they were off, if owners gave consent. It has since stopped doing so.

“We could see inside people's garages and their private properties,” said another former employee. “Let's say that a Tesla customer had something in his or her garage that was distinctive, you know, people would post those kinds of things.”

To report this story, Reuters contacted more than 300 former Tesla employees who had worked at the company over the past nine years and were involved in developing its self-driving system. More than a dozen agreed to answer questions, all speaking on condition of anonymity.

Reuters wasn’t able to obtain any of the shared videos or images, which ex-employees said they hadn’t kept. The news agency also wasn’t able to determine if the practice of sharing recordings, which occurred within some parts of Tesla as recently as last year, continues today or how widespread it was. Some former employees contacted said the only sharing they observed was for legitimate work purposes, such as seeking assistance from colleagues or supervisors.

Tesla didn't respond to Reuter’s detailed questions sent to the company for this report.

More New Energy Vehicles stories

Zero Carbon Charge to build network of off-grid electric truck sites

Zero Carbon Charge to build network of off-grid electric truck sites

Zero Carbon Charge launched its new subsidiary, Zero Carbon Logistics, which will roll out 120 solar PV electric truck-charging sites on national highways across South Africa. This will be the first off-grid, 100% green electric truck-charging network in the country.

  • 12 April 2024
Ford puts brakes on its “affordable” EV

Ford puts brakes on its “affordable” EV

Ford Motor says it has delayed the planned launches of three-row EVs in Canada and its next-generation electric pickup truck built in Tennessee in the US as the slowdown in EV demand globally forces automakers to revise production plans.

  • 9 April 2024
EX30 has the lowest carbon footprint of any Volvo

EX30 has the lowest carbon footprint of any Volvo

The Volvo EX30 possesses the smallest carbon footprint of any fully electric Volvo car to date (1). That’s according to the life cycle assessment (LCA) of the Volvo EX30, which concludes that it has a total carbon footprint of 23 tonnes per 200 000 km – approximately 60 per cent less than the XC40 petrol ICE (2).

  • 5 April 2024