Every workplace will often have some inside jokes and nightmare customer stories to share around and laugh about, but Tesla might be taking it a step too far in claims made that the company is spying on its users through recorded car cam footage.
Recent reports claim that camera-affixed Tesla cars have been sharing highly invasive videos captured of its customers and their property, which according to ex-employees of the company, spread like wildfire in an internal messaging system.
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A lawsuit has been filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California against the electric automotive company, Tesla, for invading its customer's privacy and sharing extremely sensitive images and footage recorded by cameras fitted into and around its vehicles designated for autopilot purposes.
Tesla drivers are unhappy with the company following a recent controversial Reuters report which claimed that private camera recordings captured by Tesla cars from 2019 to 2022 were in fact being shared around the company via internal messaging systems and chatrooms, purely for entertainment purposes, and images of pets and bizarre road signs had been turned into memes at Tesla's San Mateo office.
Reuters interviewed nine former employees of Tesla, who anonymously confirmed that extremely private and sometimes embarrassing footage of customers had been shared around the company that included incidents of a naked man approaching his vehicle, crashes and road rage incidents, and in one extreme example – a Tesla driver hitting a child riding their bike after speeding in a residential area in 2021.
The lawsuit against Tesla was filed last Friday, just one day after the Reuters report was published, and the Plaintiff is Henry Yeh, the owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y which he received in February 2022. This particular Tesla car model, according to the lawsuit, includes a driver-facing cabin camera, and the ability to capture, record, and store activities taking place both within and outside Tesla vehicles.
Similar Tesla models such as the X are fitted with systems that can include up to eight cameras to capture 360-degree areas around the vehicles for Autopilot capture, as well as a cabin camera, and as Tesla's own website states, "images and video from the camera do not leave the vehicle itself and are not transmitted to anyone, including Tesla, unless you enable data sharing."
It continues, "Model Y shares short cabin camera video clips with Tesla to help us develop future safety enhancements and continuously improve the intelligence of features that rely on the cabin camera".
Tesla employees say they were able to see through car cameras even when the vehicles had been parked and turned off, showing the inside of customer homes and garages, and with customers captured obliviously doing their daily laundry. Seven Tesla employees confirmed to Reuters that they could also pinpoint the exact location of where these recordings were captured, through GPS and Google Maps.
Even co-founder and CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, isn't safe from privacy breaches, as the Reuters report claims that some employees stumbled upon and shared a video of a submersible vehicle, specifically a white Lotus Esprit sub, which had been featured in the 1977 James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me.” The sub was parked inside a garage and owned by Mr. Musk after he had purchased it at a 2013 auction.
The lawsuit being filed against Tesla states the recorded assets from customer cars are being used and shared for improper purposes, "for the tasteless and tortious entertainment of Tesla employees, and perhaps those outside the company, and the humiliation of those surreptitiously recorded."
Recorded footage from Tesla vehicles where customers have given their consent is supposed to be viewed by humans for the purpose of data labeling, to identify objects in images and videos for smoother autopilot driving to avoid hazards. However, clips of customers falling over, acting intimate, and severe road accidents were being shared in private chats among employees.
So what can be done about this? The lawsuit against Tesla is hoping to award the plaintiff, the general public, and those in a similar class to the plaintiff with monetary damages, the cover of legal fees, and begs the court to compel Tesla to stop the privacy violations and destroy any collected personal data from affected customers.
The lawsuit also brings up the issue that "Disabling the cameras also likely voids the warranty on the Tesla vehicles. As a result, if Tesla drivers want to avoid future invasions of their privacy, the value of their Tesla vehicles would almost certainly decrease, and substantially so." Disabling the cameras on a Tesla vehicle is also said to be difficult and costly, requiring a mechanic to do such.
Would you ever own a Tesla? One ex-employee confessed to Reuters that they “would never buy a Tesla after seeing how they treated some of these people.”
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