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Tesla workers violated drivers' privacy, shared embarrassing car camera footage, lawsuit alleges
Photo by Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Tesla workers violated drivers' privacy, shared embarrassing car camera footage, lawsuit alleges

A California man is suing Tesla over privacy concerns, saying the company's employees shared "embarrassing" footage captured on drivers' car cameras, Reuters reported Wednesday.

"I’m bothered by it because the people who buy the car, I don't think they know that their privacy is, like, not respected. … We could see them doing laundry and really intimate things. We could see their kids," one ex-employee said, as cited in the suit.

"We could see inside people's garages and their private properties. Let's say a Tesla customer had something in their garage that was distinctive, you know, people would post those kinds of things," said another.

"Any normal human being would be appalled by this," David Choffnes, director of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute at Northeastern University in Boston, said of Tesla's alleged sharing of sensitive footage.

The class-action lawsuit filed Friday targets footage taken between 2019 and 2022 via Tesla vehicles' integral Autopilot system. Tesla's eight-camera system captures 360 degrees around the vehicle, and some models also feature a driver-facing device.

Rather than using the footage for work purposes, to improve the car, for example, the lawsuit says workers were able to access footage "for the tasteless and tortious entertainment of Tesla employees, and perhaps those outside the company, and the humiliation of those surreptitiously recorded."

Some examples of circulated recordings in "private and embarrassing situations and without their consent" cited in the lawsuit included a completely naked man approaching a Tesla, road-rage incidents, a child being hit by a Tesla driving at a high rate of speed and flying off his or her bike, and pictures of family pets made into memes.

The lawsuit also alleges that despite Tesla's assurances to the contrary, the data were not truly anonymized. It was possible for anyone viewing the images to connect the footage to owners and locations.

The alleged footage sharing occurred despite the company's privacy policy assuring customers vehicles are "designed from the ground up to protect your privacy" and "camera recordings remain anonymous," the lawsuit notes.

Tesla is not alone in featuring camera systems on its cars. In fact, backup cameras have been required in new cars in the U.S. since 2018. Whether the data gathered by backup and other car camera systems is sent to the manufacturer, stored, or sold to others varies widely, as Vox reported Thursday.

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