Special Report: Tesla Workers Circulated Private Camera Recordings from Customer Cars
Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, has been accused of breaching its customers’ privacy by allowing its employees to share invasive videos and images from inside vehicles. According to interviews with nine former employees conducted by Reuters, Tesla employees privately shared highly confidential videos and images recorded by customers’ car cameras from 2019 to 2022. The shared recordings included crashes, road rage incidents, and embarrassing situations. One crash video, for example, showed a Tesla driving at high speed in a residential area hitting a child riding a bike, causing experts to question Tesla’s commitment to customer privacy.
Tesla Denies Allegations
Tesla Inc maintains that its customers’ privacy is of great importance to them, with the cameras built into its vehicles designed from the ground up to protect customer privacy. However, seven former employees who spoke to Reuters claimed that the computer program they used could show the location of recordings, potentially revealing where a Tesla owner lived. The ex-employees also claimed that some recordings appeared to have been made when cars were parked and turned off, and they could see inside garages and private properties. While Tesla declined to respond to detailed questions sent to the company regarding this report, several former employees reported that they had observed legitimate sharing for work purposes, such as seeking assistance from colleagues or supervisors.
Labeling Pedestrians and Street Signs
One less-noted feature of artificial intelligence systems is the need for human beings to help train machines to learn automated tasks such as driving. Tesla has been employing hundreds of people in Africa and later the United States to label images since about 2016. The company provides access to thousands of videos and images recorded by car cameras that the labelers view and identify objects such as pedestrians, street signs, construction vehicles, garage doors and other objects encountered on the road or at customers’ houses. Tesla has since automated the process and shut down a data-labeling hub in San Mateo, California. However, it still employs hundreds of data labelers in Buffalo, New York, with the staff there growing by 54% over the previous six months to 675.
It is not clear whether Elon Musk was aware of the submersible vehicle video, dubbed “Wet Nellie,” or that it had been shared. Musk reportedly bought the white Lotus Esprit sub for about $968,000 at an auction in 2013.
Companies that work with user-generated content, including image or video, need stringent privacy policies that protect their clients’ private data from both external and internal threats. The sharing of sensitive videos shows AI systems need armies of human beings to help train machines to learn automated tasks. Therefore, companies must ensure employees can only access data for work purposes and implement rigid compliance rules if they want to keep sensitive information safe from rogue employees.
Tesla maintains that it takes customer privacy seriously by using a computer program that ensures anonymity and denies linkages to customers or their vehicles. However, former employees claim that the program they used for work could locate recordings, and some recordings appeared to be made when vehicles were parked and turned off. The allegations of Tesla employees sharing highly invasive videos and images recorded by customers’ car cameras raises questions about data privacy and adds to the public’s growing concern of the use of personal information in the AI industry. Companies must put in place stringent privacy policies to protect their clients’ private data from both external and internal threats.
Disclaimer: The content of the preceding article constitutes only the thoughts and opinions of the author and should not be construed as professional or legal advice.