What Tesla knows about you

By Mike Allen – March 13, 2019
Illustration of butterfly net collecting little Tesla logos

Every mile, every block, every inch of pavement driven by a Tesla vehicle generates a trove of information that can reveal as much about you as about your car, Axios autonomous vehicles correspondent Joann Muller writes from Detroit:

  • Why it matters: Tesla is more of a tech company than a car company. And because data is critical to self-driving cars, it has designed its vehicles from the outset to be sophisticated rolling computers.
  • As all cars get smarter and more automated, the data they collect will unlock new conveniences for drivers — but also rob them of privacy.

Most modern vehicles have a cellular wifi connection that transmits basic telematics data from the car to the cloud.

  • The data could include your vehicle’s location and your personal settings, such as contacts you’ve synced from your phone, addresses you’ve plugged into the navigation system and even your favorite radio stations.
  • Automakers use that information to suggest pre-emptive maintenance, or to offer remote help such as unlocking doors or roadside assistance.
  • Carmakers often share that information with business partners who provide services like navigation or real-time traffic.

But Tesla collects more information than most.

  • It knows your speed, your mileage and where and when you charge the battery.
  • It monitors airbag deployments, braking and acceleration, which helps in accident investigations.
  • And it knows when Autopilot, Tesla’s assisted-driving feature, is engaged or disengaged, and whether you have your hands on the wheel as you should.

Teslas are constantly in record mode, using cameras and other sensors to log every detail about what they encounter while driving, even when Autopilot is turned off.

  • This includes short video clips from the car’s external cameras to learn how to recognize lane lines, street signs and traffic light positions.
  • Tesla says the video snippets are not linked to the car’s vehicle identification number, and there is no way to search its database for clips associated with a specific car.
  • But with 500,000 vehicles on the road globally, information collected by one vehicle can easily be shared with others.

This “fleet learning” capability is an advantage that Tesla CEO Elon Musk says will help the company develop self-driving cars faster.

  • Tesla uses data from its vehicles to crowdsource advanced technology features like high-precision maps and improvements to Autopilot.

What you can do:

  • You can contact Tesla to stop sharing basic data, but that could affect your car’s operation, prevent software updates and disable some features, Tesla says.
  • You can also opt out of sharing location-related data, including video clips.
  • But bystanders whose images are captured by Tesla’s cameras don’t have any ability to opt out.

Tesla says its customers’ privacy is of the highest importance to the company. It recently joined a host of American companies and government agencies to help define a new international standard for consumer privacy.

Courtesy of Axios – https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-am-1fc1c6b6-d593-4d23-bfed-0d0862681cd9.html