The fallout from the recent revelations of Tesla employees sharing private images of customers is swift. The original report first surfaced on Thursday, and by Friday the class action lawsuit was filed with the Northern District of California court.
Last week Reuters reported that Tesla employees exchanged customers’ private images and videos. Those files came from the Tesla dashcams and sentry system and were widely shared in a private chat group by a number of Tesla employees.
Tesla vehicles constantly record high-quality footage while the vehicle is being driven. Those images have been essential on so many occasions to help Tesla owners in the aftermath of collisions and other traffic situations such as road rage.
The sentry system records images constantly as well, but overwrites them in a constant loop unless the system is triggered. Window smash or car movement results in the footage being saved for the car owner to be viewed at a later stage. Just as with the dashcam footage, the sentry mode images are credited with solving crimes and finding those responsible for damage to the Tesla vehicles.
Tesla was always adamant that it protects the customers’ privacy and that those images are never shared without specific protection in place. That means no identifiable data is attached to the footage and images are reviewed for specific reasons - such as accident and crime investigations. It turns out, that may not be the case. According to the initial report by Reuters, and according to the court filing, the images were shared at will and with clearly identifiable information.
The class action lawsuit alleges that: “Tesla employees accessed and circulated recordings of Tesla customers in private and embarrassing situations, without their consent including, for example, video of a man approaching a Tesla vehicle completely naked, and video of vehicle crashes and road-rage incidents. Tesla employees also shared pictures of family pets, which were made into memes by embellishing them with captions or commentary before posting them in group chats. While some postings were only shared between a few employees, others could be seen by the “scores” of Tesla employees. And as is common with internet culture, many of these videos and images were very likely shared with persons outside the company.”
Yikes. The case was filed by Fitzgerald Joseph LLP and Blood Hurst & O'Reardon LLP on behalf of Henry Yeh and all Tesla owners. The alleged privacy infractions have been ongoing since 2019 and Tesla employees were sharing them not only within the company but outside of it with the general public as well.
If this is proven to be true, and the scope of the situation is as large as the lawsuit alleges, Tesla will be in serious trouble. While the financial demands are set for a minimum of $5 million at the moment, they are likely to hit the roof and blow right through it. Tesla may be able to deal with the fines and such, but the reputation will be hard to repair. Tesla’s shares are seemingly in a free-fall since last Thursday with many shareholders losing confidence in the company.
This is the last thing Tesla needs right now, the company has been cutting prices for its electric vehicles since January trying to revive the demand. Although it is selling the most cars it ever has, it is sitting on the largest stock of unsold vehicles at the same time. Privacy is a serious issue and every Tesla owner will worry now if they have been exposed to unwanted attention. Is this the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Well, Tesla is no camel and this is not a straw - we’ll watch this one closely and keep you updated.