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Tesla employees shared private recordings from customer cars

Tesla

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According to nine former Tesla employees, groups at Tesla routinely shared private — and often sensitive — videos and messages from customer car cameras.

Although Tesla’s privacy policy notes, “Your privacy is and will always be enormously important to us,” recent interviews by Reuters revealed the opposite. Between 2019 and 2022, groups of Tesla employees privately shared sensitive customer information via an internal messaging system.

Some recordings showed crashes and road-rage incidents. For example, a Tesla was seen in a video from 2021 driving at high speed in a residential area and hiding a child riding a bike.

An ex-employee said the video circulated “like wildfire” through private chats within a San Mateo, California Tesla office. And in another video, a former employee described how the recording showed a naked man approaching the vehicle.

Tesla’s privacy policy also states, “camera recordings remain anonymous,” but the ex-employees said they used a program at work that could show the locations of recordings and potentially discover where a Tesla owner lived.

“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 their garage that was distinctive, you know, people would post those kinds of things.”

Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk might not have been safe from some recordings. Three years ago, some employees found and shared a video of “Wet Nellie,” the white Lotus Esprit sub featured in the 1977 James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

Musk had purchased it at a 2013 auction, although it’s unknown whether he was aware of the video or that it was shared.

The ex-employees claimed that they didn’t keep the videos or images. Some also said they only saw sharing for work purposes, such as getting help from colleagues or supervisors.

Two former employees said they weren’t troubled by the sharing of photographs, claiming that customers had given their agreement or people had long ago given up any reasonable expectation of keeping personal data private. But three employees said the incidents did trouble them.

One said, “It was a breach of privacy, to be honest. And I always joked that I would never buy a Tesla after seeing how they treated some of these people.”

Another ex-employee said, “I’m bothered by it because the people who buy the car, I don’t think they know that their privacy is, like, not respected…We could see them doing laundry and really intimate things. We could see their kids.”

Regulator scrutiny

Tesla’s car camera system has generated controversy in previous years. For instance, some government compounds and residential neighborhoods banned Teslas out of concern about the cameras.

And in February, the Dutch Data Protection Authority concluded an investigation into Tesla over possible privacy violations with “Sentry Mode,” a feature that can record any suspicious activity when a vehicle is parked and alert the owner.

However, the regulator found that rather than Tesla, it was the vehicle owners who were legally responsible for the recordings.

For regulators in the US, a spokesperson for the FTC told Reuters that the agency doesn’t comment on individual companies or their conduct. Musk didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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