According to a recent report by Reuters, employees at Tesla allegedly shared and mocked personal recordings captured by vehicle cameras, causing concern over privacy and data protection. The recordings were made using cameras installed on Tesla vehicles to facilitate their self-driving capabilities. The media was reportedly shared between 2019 and 2022 via the company’s internal messaging platforms.
Sources who spoke to Reuters claimed that the shared recordings contained degrading images, including a video of a nude man approaching a car, as well as shocking accidents and incidents involving road rage. Some employees were said to have even created memes out of screenshots from the recordings, distributing them in private group chats. It is believed that some of the videos were taken when the vehicles were stationary, allowing employees to view private property, including people’s garages.
Tesla previously had a policy allowing the company to access recordings from non-running vehicles, provided that consumers gave their consent. However, following an investigation by the Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA), which revealed that Tesla vehicles were “regularly photographing everyone who came near the vehicle,” the company began turning off its vehicles’ cameras by default in 2023.
However, Twitter users have questioned the credibility of the report, with some criticizing Reuters for relying on the testimony of former employees who were dismissed from the company. Some believe that these sources may not be reliable.
Critics have also expressed suspicion over Reuters’ claim that they were unable to access any of the shared films or photographs. Tesla, for its part, maintains that the Sentry Mode recordings are not sent to the company and that live transmissions are end-to-end encrypted and “cannot be seen” by the company.
In 2019, Tesla introduced Sentry Mode, which was designed to alert drivers to any suspicious behavior around their parked cars and record incidents in the vehicle’s onboard memory. In a 2021 update, Tesla added live streaming from cars using the built-in cameras. Following the DPA’s investigation, Tesla made several privacy-related improvements to Sentry Mode, including changes that ensure cameras only begin recording when a car is touched during suspicious activity. Tesla also added a feature that flashes the headlights of the car to alert any potential intruders.
The controversy over Tesla’s use of vehicle cameras highlights ongoing concerns over data privacy and protection. The incident serves as a reminder that companies must prioritize the protection of their customers’ personal data, particularly when it comes to sensitive data captured by surveillance technologies. The incident also highlights the importance of transparency and accountability in data processing, particularly in the context of emerging technologies that may have implications for privacy and data protection.