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Tesla blasted for “willful disregard” of privacy after reports of employees sharing footage

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Two Senate Democrats are demanding that Tesla do more to prevent its customer data from being compromised after reports surfaced that employees shared video footage captured by its customers’ vehicles of car crashes, road rage incidents, and other potentially embarrassing clips.

Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) accused the company of showing “willful disregard” for its customers’ privacy, claiming that the recent report from Reuters raised “serious questions about Tesla’s management practices.”

“We urge you to take all necessary actions to ensure that any images or videos consensually collected from Tesla vehicles are subject to strict privacy safeguards,” the senators write in an April 14th letter to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

“Serious questions about Tesla’s management practices”

According to the Reuters report, which published April 6th, Tesla employees passed around and poked fun at private videos recorded by vehicle cameras. The videos, which were reportedly shared via Tesla’s internal messaging systems from 2019 through 2022, were recorded on the cameras that come mounted on Tesla vehicles to enable advanced driver-assist features.

One former Tesla employee claimed that some of the videos may have even been recorded when vehicles were turned off. “We could see inside people’s garages and their private properties,” a former employee tells Reuters.

Markey and Blumenthal charge that the report exposes a misuse of Tesla’s safety features in addition to representing a breach of trust with its customers. “Although vehicle cameras have the potential to improve safety, these features do not need to come at the expense of consumer privacy,” they write.

The report flies in the face of Tesla’s claims in terms of service and other documentation that its camera systems are designed to protect customer privacy, the senators say. The impression that customers can trust the company to protect their privacy and security is “deeply misleading,” they write.

In the letter, they urge Musk to outline the reasons Tesla has for collecting such extensive and often mundane footage from its customer vehicles, how long the recordings are kept, and who has access to them. They also ask whether Tesla executives were aware that the footage was being passed around, and if so, what was done about it.

Markey and Blumenthal have scrutinized Tesla in the past for its customers’ misuse of Autopilot, demanding that regulators take action against the company. Soon after, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation into dozens of crashes involving Tesla Autopilot and stationary emergency vehicles.

For his part, Musk has been extremely critical of Senate Democrats’ attempts to regulate his companies. He has feuded with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Bernie Sanders (VT) over their support for tax increases for the wealthy. And he has insulted President Joe Biden by using popular right-wing criticisms about teleprompters and age-related attacks.

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