Tesla employees had access to confidential videos taken by customers’ cars

Between 2019 and 2022, groups of workers at Tesla privately exchanged sometimes highly private videos and images captured by customers’ car cameras via an internal messaging system, writes Reuters.

While Tesla assures electric car owners that their privacy is important, some of the videos that have been shared have put customers in uncomfortable situations, such as a video of a naked man approaching his car.

Also published: accidents and incidents related to aggression on the road. According to another former employee, in one video of a 2021 crash, a Tesla traveling at high speed in a residential area hit a child on a bicycle. The child flew in one direction, and the bicycle in the other. The video spread at Tesla’s office in San Mateo, Calif., through private face-to-face chats “like wildfire,” according to a former employee.

Other shared images were more down-to-earth, such as photos of dogs and funny road signs, which employees turned into memes by embellishing them with funny captions or comments.

In addition, several former employees noted that some of the recordings appear to have been made while the cars were parked and turned off. While Tesla says the camera footage remains anonymous and is not linked to a customer or their car, seven former employees told Reuters that a computer program used at work could show the location of the footage, potentially revealing a home address of the client. Some former employees even claimed that they were able to look inside clients’ garages and private possessions, including unique and special items.

About three years ago, some employees came across a video of a unique submersible vehicle parked inside a garage, according to two people who viewed it. Nicknamed “Wet Nellie,” the white Lotus Esprit sub had been featured in the 1977 James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me.”

Although Reuters contacted more than 300 former Tesla employees, only a dozen agreed to answer questions, all on condition of anonymity. The publication was unable to obtain any of the circulated videos or images, which former employees said they did not keep. It’s unclear whether the record-sharing practice, which took place in some Tesla divisions as recently as last year, continues today, or how widespread it was. Tesla did not respond to detailed questions sent to the company before publication.

Since around 2016, Tesla has hired hundreds of people to label images to help its cars learn to recognize pedestrians, street signs, construction equipment, garage doors and other objects found on the road or near customers’ homes. To do this, data tagging specialists had access to thousands of videos or images recorded by car cameras, which they viewed and identified objects. Tesla has automated this process, but continues to use hundreds of data labellers in Buffalo, New York.