Never mind smart speaker spying: is your car's camera sending nudes?

A new report claims Tesla workers "shared sensitive images" captured by their cars' cameras

Tesla Model 3
(Image credit: Tesla)

It's been a while since we had a good bit of privacy paranoia, such as the fear that the best smart speakers are secretly spying on us. And the latest one's a doozy: according to Reuters, Tesla cars have been sending nudes – and those nudes have been shared among Tesla workers.

The report says that according to nine former employees, for at least a three year period between 2019 and 2022 groups of Tesla employees used a private messaging system to share "sometimes highly invasive videos and images recorded by customers' car cameras". One example described a video of a man approaching a Tesla "completely naked".

The solution seems pretty obvious – if your car's got cameras, keep your pants on – but schoolboy sniggering aside, there's a real issue here: it seems that employers were sharing all kinds of supposedly private video and photos, with potentially serious consequences.

What's so bad about car-cam clips being shared?

According to Reuters, multiple former employees said that the program they used at work showed where recordings had been made, potentially revealing where the owner lived. And those recordings were of all kinds of things, including footage of "crashes and road-rage incidents" where some videos spread "like wildfire".

The location information is the most concerning thing here, because Tesla's customer privacy notice specifically states that "camera recordings remain anonymous and are not linked to your vehicle"; according to these former employees, that isn't true. "We could see inside people's garages and their private properties," one former Tesla worker told the reporter. "Let's say that a Tesla customer had something in their garage that was distinctive, you know, people would post those kinds of things."

One former Tesla worker said it was enough to put them off buying one of the firm's cars. "The people who buy the car, I don't think they know that their privacy is, like, not respected … We could see them doing laundry and really intimate things. We could see their kids.”

This isn't the first privacy concern around Tesla cameras; earlier this year, Dutch regulators ended an investigation into Sentry Mode, which records activity around the car when it's parked. It decided not to fine Tesla after the firm made some changes to the way Sentry Mode works. However if Tesla employees are indeed sharing video and photos and continue to do so today, that could be a problem – especially in the EU, which has very strong data protection laws.

The whole Reuters piece is worth a read, because it goes into lots of detail about Tesla, the human labelling that goes into its image recognition and some of the data it collects and uses – ads well as why some employees "became paranoid" while driving the firm's own cars.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written more than a dozen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote seven more books and a Radio 2 documentary series; her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, was shortlisted for the British Book Awards. When she’s not scribbling, Carrie is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind (unquietmindmusic).