Tesla Inc.’s in-car video-monitoring system poses privacy concerns, Consumer Reports said Tuesday.
vehicles have an in-car camera that can monitor whether the driver is paying attention, and the video footage can be transmitted to the company to review the moments before a crash.
But Consumer Reports said the fact that the in-car videos are saved and transmitted raises privacy issues, and may undermine the benefits of monitoring drivers in the first place.
“If Tesla has the ability to determine if the driver isn’t paying attention, it needs to warn the driver in the moment, like other automakers already do,” Jake Fisher, senior director of Consumer Reports’ auto test center, said in the report.
John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, also raised concerns.
“Any time video is being recorded, it can be accessed later,” Davisson told Consumer Reports, adding that that could include anyone from the police to insurance companies to hackers.
A number of other auto makers use in-car cameras to monitor drivers, but those systems do not pose similar privacy risks because their video is not saved or transmitted, Consumer Reports said. Instead, they use infrared technology to alert distracted or drowsy drivers, or slow down the car if it senses a problem.
Tesla’s monitoring system is turned off by default, but video may be transmitted to the company if the driver enables it and gets into a crash.
Kelly Funkhouser, Consumer Reports’ program manager for vehicle interface testing, said Tesla’s in-car camera may have a self-serving purpose. “We have already seen Tesla blaming the driver for not paying attention immediately after news reports of a crash while a driver is using Autopilot,” she said in the report. “Now, Tesla can use video footage to prove that a driver is distracted rather than addressing the reasons why the driver wasn’t paying attention in the first place.”
Tesla dissolved its media-relations team last year and did not respond to a MarketWatch request for comment.
Meanwhile, Tesla’s exterior cameras have come under scrutiny in China. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that China’s military has banned staff and employees at certain companies from driving Teslas over fears their car cameras could collect sensitive material that could be transmitted back to the U.S. Tesla CEO Elon Musk called the claims ridiculous.
Tesla’s Autopilot — which is not a self-driving feature, but a driver-assistance feature — has faced multiple investigations related to crashes. Federal transportation officials are currently investigating two crashes in Michigan involving Tesla vehicles that may have involved Autopilot.
Tesla shares are down 6% year to date, but have surged more than 550% over the past year.