Elon Musk caught out over Tesla's controversial in-car cameras
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Tesla has revealed the true purpose of a driver-facing camera in new Tesla Model 3 electric cars – and it’s not what company founder Elon Musk originally claimed.
A lens mounted near the rear-view mirror monitors driver behaviour, making sure motorists pay attention to the road ahead. The development could help address safety concerns after the deaths of customers who may have relied too heavily on its “autopilot” driver assistance features.
It’s not turned on. Meant for vandalism monitoring in a robotaxi future. Also, the car has transparent windows, so spying has limited value.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 12, 2020
That flies in the face of claims made by Musk when customers first noticed the camera.
Responding to queries on social media, Musk said in April 2020 that the camera is “not turned on” and “meant for vandalism monitoring in a robotaxi future”.
Then independent decoders examined the software in new Teslas and discovered the cars were tracking driver attentiveness and, for example, whether owners were using their phone while driving.
A software update rolling out to Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles now says “the cabin camera above your rearview mirror can now detect and alert driver inattentiveness while Autopilot is engaged”.
“Camera data does not leave the car itself, which means the system cannot save or transmit information unless data sharing is enabled.”
Motorists reacted strongly to the news on Twitter.
One customer said they planned to trade their car in, as they “don’t need to be spied on”.
Another linked it to Tesla’s in-house insurance company, suggesting the company might use the information to adjust premiums or “sell that data for kajillions of dollars to other insurance providers”.
Tesla is not the only company to use cameras to monitor driver behaviour.
Subaru’s latest Forester and Outback SUVs watch drivers to make sure they are keeping an eye on the road, warning them to pay attention if they look down or away from the windscreen for more than a couple of seconds.
Ford and General Motors also use driver-facing cameras to make sure drivers are watching the road when using semi-autonomous features.
The technology is likely to become widespread in future models.