A recent report by Reuters revealed that an employee at Tesla had viewed private videos recorded by a customer’s onboard camera without permission. The videos, recorded by cameras installed in Tesla vehicles to enable self-driving capabilities, were shared through Tesla’s internal messaging system from 2019 to 2022.
Sources inside Tesla stated that the recordings shared by Tesla employees ranged from graphic accidents and road troubles to videos of a naked man approaching a car. Some employees manipulated the recorded video and later shared it in private group chats. Shockingly, a former Tesla employee told Reuters that some videos might have even been recorded with the vehicle turned off, allowing employees to view inside people’s garages and private properties.
According to the report, Tesla previously had a policy of accepting recordings from non-running vehicles with a customer signature. The Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA) found that Tesla vehicles “often filmed everyone who approached the vehicle”, so Tesla will turn off cameras in its vehicles by 2023.
Tesla launched Sentry Mode in 2019, which uses the feature to warn drivers of suspicious movement around their parked car and save recorded incidents to the car’s onboard memory. However, the feature has raised concerns in several countries. German consumer group VZBZ sued Tesla last year, claiming that Sentry Mode “violated data protection laws.”
In response to the concerns raised by the DPA investigation, Tesla is making several other privacy-focused adjustments to Sentry Mode. The camera now starts recording not only when it detects suspicious movement but also when it touches the vehicle. Additionally, Tesla has started flashing its headlights to warn passers-by that their vehicles are recording.
On the feature’s support page, Tesla states that “Sentry Mode recordings are not sent to us,” adding that the live stream is end-to-end encrypted and “not accessible by us.” Tesla is taking several steps to address these concerns. Still, this incident highlights the need for companies to ensure that employees respect customer privacy and have strong data protection policies.