Consumer Reports has raised concerns about Tesla’s in-vehicle cameras, saying they represent a privacy concern.
Vehicles are increasingly moving toward automation, and a big part of that is cameras that monitor the driver. In many cases, these are to measure the driver’s response and ensure they are paying attention to the road.
While several automakers include monitoring cameras, Tesla’s approach is much different than its competitors. According to Consumer Reports, BMW, Ford, GM and Subaru’s cameras are all close-circuit systems. The cameras are used exclusively in-vehicle, and do not record or transmit their footage.
In contrast, Tesla has admitted that its cameras both record and transmit video to the company, which it then studies and analyzes to improve its self-driving technology.
If drivers enable the cabin camera, Tesla says it will capture and share a video clip of the moments before a crash or automatic emergency braking (AEB) activation to help the automaker “develop future safety features and software enhancements,” according to Tesla’s website. Tesla did not respond to CR’s emailed request for additional information about its in-car monitoring systems.
Tesla’s actions raise concerns about who benefits most from its monitoring systems, especially since the company has a habit of quickly blaming the driver when an accident occurs while the vehicle’s Autopilot is engaged.
“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,” said Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s program manager for vehicle interface testing. “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.”
There’s also concern that Tesla’s system could be used in the future for some yet-to-be-disclosed purpose.
Ultimately, the questions about Tesla’s in-vehicle monitoring system make a case for greater consumer protection — and buying a competitor’s offering.
“Advanced features in cars can bring consumers enormous benefits, but it’s important for our laws to make sure that automakers put people ahead of their bottom line. Automotive innovation must come hand-in-hand with strong and sensible consumer protections,” says William Wallace, manager of safety policy at CR.