Tesla Workers Have Been Sharing Camera Footage From Customer Cars

Technology / 7 Comments

Yet Elon Musk is worried about his assassination coordinates being shared.

According to a report from Reuters, Tesla employees were sharing invasive videos and images recorded by customer car cameras via an internal messaging system between 2019 and 2022. The recordings included crashes, road-rage incidents, and embarrassing situations.

On top of that, some employees could see the location of recordings, potentially revealing where the Tesla owner lives. While Tesla assures its customers that their privacy is important, the report strongly suggests that it doesn't. According to the interviews, the sharing of customer car footage occurred between pairs of employees as well as groups where, inevitably, memes were created.

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The sharing of sensitive videos and images by Tesla employees has been called "morally reprehensible" by a cybersecurity and privacy expert, and, according to one employee, a crash video in 2021 showed a Tesla driving at high speed as it hit a child riding a bike spread "like wildfire" through a Tesla office in San Mateo, California.

However, the privacy invasion could be less spectacular but more insidious. "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."

"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," said another.

2017-2023 Tesla Model 3 Dashboard Tesla

According to the report, shared footage also includes someone being dragged into a car seemingly against their will and a naked man approaching his car in a garage.

The people that shared the material, and possibly still are, are the data labelers whose job it is to help train machines to learn automated tasks, including driving and parking. Tesla has employed hundreds of people since 2016 to review footage and identify pedestrians, street signs, construction vehicles, and other items cars experience on the road, in parking lots, or in people's garages.

Tesla has been increasingly automating the process and shut down the San Mateo, California, data-labeling hub last year. However, it has another hub in Buffalo, New York, where, in February, Tesla said the staff there had grown 54% over the previous six months to 675 people. This coincides with Tesla moving from ultrasonic sensors to Tesla Vision Cameras on the Model 3 and Model Y.

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Of course, Elon Musk features in the report. According to two employees, a few years ago, an employee came across and shared a submersible vehicle parked inside a garage. It was the white Lotus Esprit submarine featured in the classic James Bond movie, "The Spy Who Loved Me." Its owner since 2013 is Musk, who paid $968,000 at an auction for the piece of movie memorabilia.

Neither Elon Musk nor Tesla as a brand has responded to requests for comment or direct questions. That's not a surprise, as Musk shut down the Tesla press relations department a long time ago. That means Tesla has nobody to calm this story down, but we should note that some of the former employees contacted said the only sharing they observed was for legitimate work purposes, including seeking assistance from colleagues or supervisors. However, the report also points out supervisors were also sharing or viewing the shared footage.


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