- Several Tesla models record and transmit video of drivers and passengers via in-car cameras.
- Tesla cars have up to 9 cameras encompassing both the outside and inside of the car.
- Consumer Reports said the in-car camera opens drivers up to serious privacy concerns.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Several Tesla vehicle models, including the Model 3 and Model Y, record and transmit video footage of drivers and passengers via in-car cameras. The cameras are designed to help Tesla develop its full-self driving software, but present a serious privacy risk, according to Consumer Reports.
John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), told Consumer Reports the footage opens Tesla drivers up to a whole host of privacy concerns, including the potential for outside parties to gain access to the data for malicious purposes, as well as Tesla itself using the data for its own gain.
“It may later be repurposed for a system that is designed to track the behaviors of the driver, potentially for other business purposes,” Davisson told Consumer Reports.
Jake Fisher, senior director of Consumer Reports’ auto-test center, told Insider the most concerning aspect of their investigation into the cameras was that Tesla was not being entirely transparent about how the cameras were being used.
“Tesla could be using these cameras to stop crashes and they’re using it for studies, to help Tesla develop more things,” Fisher told Insider. “Tesla is the only automaker that has hardware that could help stop crashes, but isn’t using it for the driver’s safety.”
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that Tesla has used the in-car cameras to remove its full self-driving software from drivers that “did not pay sufficient attention to the road.”
-Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 12, 2021
Musk confirmed the company was using the in-car cameras to determine eligibility for the FSD software, when asked by another Twitter user.
-Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 13, 2021
Other car companies, including BMW, Ford and General Motors have elaborate driver monitoring systems, but they have focused the systems on driver safety over collecting data. Consumer Reports notes the car companies do not record, save or transmit the data and use infrared technology to identify a driver’s eye movements or head position instead of video cameras.
While Tesla does not use the in-car cameras to alert the driver to potential safety concerns, the company does use a real-time driver-engagement tool via steering wheel inputs that analyze the amount of pressure put on the wheel to keep drivers alert.
Consumer Reports said the steering wheel inputs can be easily tricked. “Just because a driver’s hands are on the wheel doesn’t mean their attention is on the road,” said Kelly Funkhouser, program manager for vehicle interface testing at Consumer Reports. Fisher told Insider in-car cameras could help save a lot of lives.
Tesla drivers can opt-out of sharing the in-car videos via their control settings and the Cabin Camera is disabled by default. According to Tesla’s site, the camera will only turn on before a crash or automatic emergency braking (AEB) activation.
China has also expressed concern regarding cameras on Tesla cars. In March, China banned Tesla cars in military complexes due to concerns about the company monitoring drivers via the car’s cameras.
In response, Musk said on Twitter that the company would be shut down if it was spying on Chinese officials.
While Tesla’s Model 3 made the Consumer Reports’ “Top Picks” list last year, the publication removed its recommendation for the Model S, citing issues with its suspension and electronics. Consumer Reports also criticized Tesla’s Model Y in November for body hardware and paint issues.