Tesla employees spy on vehicle camera footage for entertainment

Some Tesla teams have access to images captured by Tesla cameras. Originally, these images are used to improve embedded systems. But to break the boredom, some abuse their power and use the clichés to prank each other.

What happens at Tesla, should have stayed at Tesla, except for the information leaked to Reuters on April 6. Nine former Tesla employees testified that images taken from Tesla car cameras were also used to distract teams on the company’s internal chat. Testimonials raise several issues of data confidentiality and privacy.

The various Tesla models are equipped with many exterior cameras, and for the newer models, cameras are inside as well. These cameras are used for the operation of Autopilot, FSD autonomous driving, and sentinel mode, but also recently by the Tesla Vision system for parking aids. These cameras are therefore inseparable from the use of a Tesla car. Few Tesla drivers are likely aware that scenes captured by their car cameras can end up distracting some Tesla employees.

Better to turn off data sharing with Tesla

For each vehicle, it can be decided to activate or deactivate the sharing of certain car data with the Tesla teams. We find this option on more and more connected objects. Basically, this allows designers to improve products through updates, if they become aware of malfunctions thanks to data feedback. It is rather useful.

Position of cameras 1 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 (and old sensors) Tesla // Source: Tesla

Originally, this video data should allow the team of Tesla viewers to qualify what vehicles see on the road, or in parking maneuvers. This should help the system to tell the difference between a construction cone and a trash can, between a stop sign and a toll barrier, or between a washing machine and a gym ball.

Except that as so often, the initial purpose of data collection can sometimes be misused. This is the case of what is reported by Reuters in its file of April 6. The images taken by the brand’s car cameras, including in customer garages, could be viewed remotely by the team. Anything out of the ordinary was captured by the viewer employee, then shared with the rest of the group to entertain: spectacular accidents, unusual situations, surprising objects, people walking around in undress, or even naked, around the car…

Some of these extracts were even modified to turn them into memes, in order to be sure to make the team laugh on the internal chat of the company.

No one is spared, not even Elon Musk

Even Elon Musk’s garage would have been spied on. “About three years ago, employees stumbled upon a video of a unique submersible vehicle parked in a garage and shared it, according to two people who viewed it. Nicknamed “Wet Nellie”, the white Lotus Esprit submarine had been featured in the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. Owner of the vehicle: Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, who bought it for about $968,000 at an auction in 2013. It’s unclear whether Musk knew of the video or if it was shared“. 

The data collected is not linked to a customer account: those who have access to it, therefore, do not have the possibility of knowing who owns the vehicle. Except that they have the location of the Tesla, which is particularly intrusive, especially for videos captured at the homes of Tesla customers.

Tesla has already been caught for hijacking embedded systems

The brand’s onboard cameras have already caused problems in some countries. In China, Teslas have been banned in several areas. Most recently, this ban took place in the city where the Chinese Communist Party Congress was held, to prevent cars from filming and broadcasting sensitive information.

Tesla Sentinel Mode with Cookie Monster // Source: Tesla

In Europe, it is the sentry mode that has already been caught up in Berlin and the Netherlands because of the sentry mode which could film places and people without their knowledge. Tesla will probably have to explain to Europe the use of data from its vehicles.

In the meantime, if you have a Tesla and are quite sensitive to the issue of securing your personal data and your privacy, it seems useful to disable data sharing with Tesla.


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