Tesla Employees Admit To Sharing Private Car Videos For Laughs In Shocking Report

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An eye-opening report has detailed a privacy-abusing culture among groups of Tesla employees tasked with sensitive data analysis. These employees are alleged to have passed “highly invasive videos and images” from customers’ vehicles around the office using Tesla’s internal messaging system. These practices seem to defy the company’s “Customer Privacy Notice,” which begs the question of how these violations became so widespread.

Reuters contacted more than 300 former Tesla employees during the course of its investigation and received responses from more than a dozen. These anonymous ex-employees were involved with the development of Tesla’s self-driving systems. As part of this process, Tesla employs data labelers who are tasked with identifying and tagging subjects and objects within footage recorded by customers’ cars. This work is necessary to train the software’s object recognition capabilities.

Tesla has been up front about the existence of this program and has assured users that their data would be appropriately anonymized and protected. Tesla does require customers to opt-out of collecting vehicle data (video and images included), stating, “By default, Tesla provides this seamless experience while protecting your privacy” in its Customer Privacy Notice, and that, “This analysis helps Tesla improve its products, features, and diagnose problems quicker.” The policy as-written is fair-enough, but privacy demands more than lip-service.

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Snippet from Tesla's Customer Privacy Notice

The ex-employees allege that during a period spanning from at least 2019 to 2022, it became commonplace for recordings of customers’ embarrassing situations, crashes and road-rage incidents, and other private moments to be spread “like wildfire” around the office. The report indicates that the spread was generally via one-on-one conversations, but that did little to quell the reach.

Despite efforts to anonymize the footage, some of the sources stated that location data was retained, which could potentially disclose where a Tesla owner lived. “We could see inside people's garages and their private properties,” said one 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.”

It also appears that no Tesla owner was immune to the invasions of privacy. The report details how a video of a “unique submersible vehicle parked inside a garage” was shared around three years ago. As it turns out, that vehicle was the white Lotus Esprit sub that appeared in the 1977 James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me,” and the owner was none other than Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The exact scope of sharing is uncertain. Some respondents indicated that the only times footage or images were shared with them were to request assistance or for other legitimate work reasons. Others indicated that, “While some postings were only shared between two employees, others could be seen by scores of them.” Whatever the case, it does not appear that this practice extended outside of the organization, and none of the ex-employees reported keeping any of the files. It is also not known if this behavior persists to this day.

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Concerningly, some of the former employees reported that they “weren’t bothered” by the sharing, indicating that they felt “customers had given their consent or that people long ago had given up any reasonable expectation of keeping personal data private.”

Other ex-employees disagreed. “It was a breach of privacy, to be honest. And I always joked that I would never buy a Tesla after seeing how they treated some of these people,” said one former employee. Another added, “We could see them doing laundry and really intimate things. We could see their kids.”

It appears that the corporate culture rewarded these practices. The report explains that “One former labeler described sharing images as a way to “break the monotony.” Another described how the sharing won admiration from peers. "It was not just about social banter, either," one respondent stated, “People who got promoted to lead positions shared a lot of these funny items and gained notoriety for being funny.”

Of course, the only acceptable level of sharing this data is zero. Legitimately requesting a second opinion from a colleague or clarification from a supervisor is one matter, but professional treatment of sensitive matters is non-negotiable. As consumers, we have little choice but to trust large companies to uphold their stated privacy policies. While many of us may be jaded about whether that truly is the case, as examples like this show, it does not excuse a lax attitude, particularly when such sensitive information is on the line.