Tesla Employees Circulated Images, Videos Captured by Vehicle Cameras for Their Own Amusement, Class Action Says
A proposed class action lawsuit alleges Tesla employees have violated the privacy of consumers by accessing, viewing and sharing sensitive videos and images stored by the automaker without consent.
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The 17-page lawsuit says that employees of the electric car company have since at least 2019 viewed and circulated images and videos of consumers in “private and embarrassing situations” that were captured by onboard Autopilot system cameras without the individuals’ knowledge or consent. While some recordings or photos—which the case says Tesla employees sometimes embellished or made into memes—were shared with only a small group, others were circulated on a much larger scale and, given the nature of “internet culture,” likely with people outside the company, the suit alleges.
“That such videos and images were made available to Tesla employees to view and share, at will, and for improper purposes, affects each and every person with a Tesla vehicle, their families, passengers, and even guests in their homes,” the lawsuit, filed on April 7 in California, emphasizes.
Tesla’s so-called Autopilot system—built into all Tesla vehicles since 2014—includes eight cameras that provide a 360-degree view around the car and, in many models, a driver-facing camera, the case shares. These cameras record and store activity that takes place in and outside of a vehicle—including footage of crashes and road-rage incidents, the complaint relays.
In its privacy notice, Tesla assures customers that footage captured by onboard cameras “remain[s] anonymous and [is] not linked to you or your vehicle,” the filing stresses. The automaker also promises to use the stored images and videos only to “[communicate] with you,” “[fulfill] our products and services” and “[improve] and enhance development of our products and services.”
The lawsuit argues, however, that Tesla’s routine violation of consumers’ privacy rights contradicts these statements and is “particularly egregious” as the company has recorded—and its employees have shared “for their own personal reasons, and not for any legitimate business reason”—footage of consumers “vulnerable on their own property, in their own garages, and even in their own homes, including at least one instance where Tesla cameras captured video of a man naked in his home.”
“We could see their kids,” former Tesla employee says
Per the filing, a former worker described how some recordings were captured by onboard cameras despite the fact that Tesla cars were parked and powered off in consumers’ garages. The same individual claimed that employees could see “[consumers] doing laundry and really intimate things. We could see their kids,” the suit states.
Another employee who was apparently disturbed by this conduct reported that they “would never buy a Tesla after seeing how they treated some of these people,” the lawsuit relays.
What’s more, despite representing that Tesla onboard camera footage could not be linked to an individual consumer or their vehicle, the automaker’s system can, in fact, pinpoint the location of recordings, meaning that “anyone viewing the videos and images could determine exactly where the Tesla owner lived” and “who the Tesla owner was,” the suit charges.
Further still, the complaint says that Tesla employees have gone so far as to make memes out of photos of customers’ pets, while others have circulated images of people’s children and videos of car crashes, the case contends. As the suit tells it, a video from 2021 of a Tesla vehicle hitting a child on a bike “quickly spread around a Tesla office in San Mateo, California, via private one-on-one chats.”
Since at least 2019, the cameras in Tesla vehicles captured highly-invasive [sic] videos and images of the cars’ owners, which Tesla employees were able to access—not for the stated purposes of communication, fulfillment of services, and enhancement of Tesla vehicle driving systems—but for the tasteless and tortious entertainment of Tesla employees, and perhaps those outside the company, and the humiliation of those surreptitiously recorded.”
Privacy or functionality? Tesla owners “face a dilemma,” case claims
According to the complaint, Tesla could have taken steps to ensure that recordings captured by onboard cameras were inaccessible to employees. As it stands, however, the “only surefire fix to Tesla’s invasion of privacy is to disable the cameras,” the filing contends.
Tesla owners therefore “face a dilemma,” the lawsuit argues—they can “continue to have their privacy invaded” or disable the cameras built into their vehicle, which would substantially hamper the Autopilot system and its driver assistance features. Deactivating the cameras would also require technical expertise and likely nullify the vehicle’s warranty, the suit adds.
“As a result, if Tesla drivers want to avoid future invasions of their privacy, the value of their Tesla vehicles would almost certainly decrease, and substantially so,” the complaint reads.
The plaintiff in the case is a San Francisco resident and owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y, the filing says.
Who’s covered by the lawsuit?
The case looks to represent anyone in the United States who owned or leased a Tesla vehicle at any time since April 7, 2019.
I own a Tesla. How do I join the lawsuit?
Usually, there’s nothing you need to do to join or be included in a class action lawsuit when it’s first filed. If the lawsuit settles, people covered by the settlement—known as class members—may receive direct notice of the deal via email and/or regular mail with instructions on what to do next and their legal rights. It’s typically only in the event of a settlement that consumers would need to act, usually by filling out and filing a claim form online or by mail.
Keep in mind that it often takes months or even years for a class action lawsuit to be resolved.
In the meantime, if you have a Tesla, or simply want to stay in the loop on class action lawsuit and settlement news, sign up for ClassAction.org’s free weekly newsletter.
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