Tesla’s cabin camera use panned by Consumer Reports over privacy concerns

In a report on Tuesday, US magazine Consumer Reports posted a critique of Tesla’s use of in-car cameras to develop and improve its Full Self-Driving suite. The publication noted that such practices from the EV maker raise privacy concerns.

Elon Musk confirmed in a recent tweet that Tesla is utilizing in-car footage from vehicles that are part of the ongoing FSD Beta to determine if drivers were paying enough attention to the road. Because of this, the CEO noted that some users’ access to the FSD Beta had been revoked. When prodded further, Musk confirmed that Tesla utilized the in-vehicle camera to determine if FSD beta users were paying sufficient attention when operating their vehicle.

This was a key point of critique for Consumer Reports, which noted that Tesla’s use of its vehicles’ cabin camera raises privacy concerns. Jake Fisher, the magazine’s auto test center’s senior director, shared his thoughts on the matter. “If Tesla has the ability to determine if the driver isn’t paying attention, it needs to warn the driver in the moment, like other automakers already do,” he said.

The Tesla Model 3 and the Model Y are both equipped with cabin cameras, which the EV maker intends to utilize for its upcoming Robotaxi network. The Model S and Model X refresh, which are expected to start deliveries soon, are also fitted with in-car cameras.

The cabin camera, at least for the Model 3 and Model Y today, is deactivated by default. However, drivers have the option to enable the in-car camera as a way to help Tesla develop future safety features and enhancements. Tesla has noted that it will capture and share a video clip from the cabin camera if the vehicle crashes or if the automatic emergency braking system is engaged.

While Consumer Reports’ concerns are notable, Tesla seems poised to use its vehicles’ cabin camera as a way to determine driver engagement in the future. Back in October, references to driver monitoring systems in Tesla’s software were observed by noted EV hacker @greentheonly. The hacker indicated that Tesla’s in-car camera could be used to detect if drivers’ eyes were closed, or if they were looking away from the road. This contrasts with the strategy employed by automakers such as General Motors, whose Super Cruise uses infrared technology to identify a driver’s eye movements or head position.

In a statement to Consumer Reports, John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), noted that closed-loop systems like those used by GM for Super Cruise do not present the same privacy risks as those presented by Tesla’s cabin camera. “I think there’s reason to distrust that this is the whole intended purpose of the system on Tesla’s part. It may later be repurposed for a system that is designed to track the behaviors of the driver, potentially for other business purposes,” he said.

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