Groups of Tesla employees reportedly shared videos and images recorded by customers’ car cameras between 2019 and 2022, according to interviews by Reuters with nine former employees.
The unnamed sources said some of the recordings were highly invasive, with one ex-employee describing a video of a man approaching a Tesla vehicle completely naked.
Among the videos shared by employees at Tesla’s San Mateo, California office via private one-on-one chats were also crashes and road-rage incidents. According to another ex-employee, a crash video from 2021 showed a Tesla driving at high speed in a residential area hitting a child riding a bike.
Footage showed the child flying in one direction and the bike in another. The former Tesla employee said the video spread around the office in San Mateo “like wildfire,” via the internal messaging system.
Other recordings were more benign, such as photos of dogs and funny road signs that employees turned into memes before posting them in private group chats. According to several ex-employees, some postings were only shared between two employees, but others could be seen by many of them.
Another potential problem raised by one ex-employee is that some videos appeared to have been recorded when cars were parked and turned off. That wouldn’t have been an issue several years ago, when Tesla would receive video recordings from its vehicles even when they were off, provided owners gave consent.
However, Tesla says on its website it had stopped doing so for 2018 and newer model year vehicles. These vehicles (with software version 2020.48.5 or newer) store recordings taken in Sentry Mode to onboard memory.
“We could see inside people’s garages and their private properties. Let’s say that a Tesla customer had something in their garage that was distinctive, you know, people would post those kinds of things,” said another former employee.
Ironically, it appears that even CEO Elon Musk fell victim to Tesla cameras’ prying lenses. About three years ago, some employees found and shared a video of a unique submersible vehicle parked inside a garage, according to two people who saw the footage.
That sub was apparently “Wet Nellie,” the white Lotus Esprit that had starred in the 1977 James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me.” The vehicle had been bought by Elon Musk for about $968,000 at an auction in 2013. Whether Musk was aware of the video or that it had been shared, it’s not clear.
Of course, Tesla may argue that its employees may occasionally need to check out some of the videos coming from customer cars to solve Autopilot issues or simply for data labeling purposes, but the line between that and breaching privacy appears to be very thin.
Neither Tesla nor Elon Musk responded to detailed questions sent by Reuters for the report. If you want to know more about this topic, the source article goes into much greater detail.