Former Tesla workers in the US admit they often shared sensitive videos and images taken by customer’s car cameras
The conduct of Tesla’s workforce has been highlighted, after it was reported that sensitive images taken from the cameras on customer’s cars had been shared internally.
Reuters reported that it had contacted more than 300 former Tesla employees who had worked at Tesla 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.
The interviews revealed that between 2019 and 2022, groups of Tesla employees privately shared via an internal messaging system, sometimes highly invasive videos and images recorded by customers’ car cameras.
Tesla vehicles of course are fitted with a number of cameras, which has triggered privacy concerns in the past.
In March 2021 influential US magazine Consumer Reports highlighted privacy concerns about the in-car cameras.
Consumer Reports said at the time it was concerned at the system being used in certain Tesla models, and the way they record and also transmit data or video.
The cameras in Tesla cars were also a concern for Chinese authorities as well, with the Chinese military banning Tesla cars from entering its secure locations over the matter.
Elon Musk at the time denied the company’s cars could be used to leak information from China, and if its cars did spy, the firm would be shut down Musk stated.
Shortly after that Tesla announced on its Chinese social media page that cameras in Tesla cars were not activated outside of North America, and it was up to the user to decide whether to activate them.
Sensitive images, videos
But the investigation by Reuters this week painted a worrying picture of Tesla staff accessing sensitive images and videos taken by cameras found in the cars of US customers, and then sharing them with fellow staffers.
Some of the recordings caught Tesla customers in embarrassing situations, Reuters reported. One ex-employee described a video of a man approaching a vehicle completely naked.
Also shared were car crashes and road-rage incidents.
One crash video in 2021 reportedly showed a Tesla driving at high speed in a residential area hitting a child riding a bike, another ex-employee told Reuters.
The child flew in one direction, the bike in another.
The video spread around a Tesla office in San Mateo, California, via private one-on-one chats, “like wildfire,” the ex-employee reportedly 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.
“We could see inside people’s garages and their private properties,” another former employee told Reuters. “Let’s say that a Tesla customer had something in their garage that was distinctive, you know, people would post those kinds of things.”
About three years ago, some employees reportedly stumbled upon and shared a video of a unique submersible vehicle parked inside a garage, according to two people who viewed it. Nicknamed “Wet Nellie,” the white Lotus Esprit sub had been featured in the 1977 James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
The vehicle’s owner was none other than Elon Musk, who had bought it for about $968,000 at an auction in 2013. Reuters stated it is not clear whether Musk was aware of the video, or that it had been shared.
Reuters said it 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.
Two ex-employees told Reuters they weren’t bothered by the sharing of images, saying that customers had given their consent or that people long ago had given up any reasonable expectation of keeping personal data private. Three others, however, said they were troubled by it.
“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,” one former employee reportedly said.
One former employee saw nothing wrong with sharing images, but described a function that allowed Tesla data labelers to view the location of recordings on Google Maps as a “massive invasion of privacy.”
Tesla did not respond to Reuter’s request for comment, but the EV giant 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 Tesla owner lived.