Tesla is facing a class-action complaint after it was revealed that employees used an internal messaging system to share sensitive videos and images of customers taken by car cameras.
Plaintiff Henry Yeh, a California resident who owns a Model Y, sued Tesla on Friday on behalf of himself and all other people in the US who owned or leased a Tesla at any time in the past four years. The lawsuit draws from allegations in a Reuters article that was based on interviews with nine former Tesla employees.
“Tesla captures recordings of people vulnerable on their own property, in their own garages, and even in their own homes, including at least one instance where Tesla cameras captured video of a man naked in his home,” the lawsuit said. “Tesla also captured and disseminated videos and images of customers’ pets and even their children—a group that society has long recognized as vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation. Indeed, parents’ interest in their children’s privacy is one of the most fundamental liberty interests society recognizes.”
Since 2019, Tesla employees have accessed the images “not for the stated purposes of communication, fulfillment of services, and enhancement of Tesla vehicle driving systems,” but “for the tasteless and tortious entertainment of Tesla employees, and perhaps those outside the company, and the humiliation of those surreptitiously recorded,” Yeh’s lawyers wrote.
Tesla employees turned pictures of customers’ pets “into memes by embellishing them with captions or commentary before posting them in group chats,” the lawsuit said. “While some postings were only shared between a few employees, others could be seen by ‘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.”
The complaint was filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California. Yeh is represented by two law firms that focus on consumer protection class actions, Fitzgerald Joseph and Blood Hurst & O’Reardon.
Images included “scenes of intimacy”
As reported by Reuters last week, one former employee reported seeing “scandalous stuff,” including “scenes of intimacy but not nudity,” as well as “certain pieces of laundry, certain sexual wellness items… and just private scenes of life that we really were privy to because the car was charging.”
One ex-employee told Reuters, “I’m bothered by it because 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.”
The lawsuit accuses Tesla of “intrusion upon seclusion” for the alleged invasion of privacy in customers’ homes and vehicles, negligence, breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, intentional misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment. It also alleges Tesla violated California’s constitutional right to privacy, the state’s Unfair Competition Law, and the state’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial, and injunctions “compelling Tesla’s cessation of recording, viewing, and sharing videos and images in violation of state law, and destruction of all personal data obtained in violation of state law.”
Lawsuit: Images were linked to locations
One of Yeh’s attorneys, Jack Fitzgerald, told Reuters that “Mr. Yeh was outraged at the idea that Tesla’s cameras can be used to violate his family’s privacy, which the California Constitution scrupulously protects.”
“Tesla needs to be held accountable for these invasions and for misrepresenting its lax privacy practices to him and other Tesla owners,” Fitzgerald said.
Although Tesla represents to customers “that its camera recordings cannot be linked to individuals and their vehicles,” the Tesla system “was, in fact, capable of—and did—show the location of recordings, meaning anyone viewing the videos and images could determine exactly where the Tesla owner lived, i.e., who the Tesla owner was,” the lawsuit said.
Arguing that “Tesla has a history of privacy violations,” the complaint points out that Tesla agreed to change camera settings in Europe after complaints from consumers and an investigation by the Dutch privacy regulator. As The Wall Street Journal reported in February, Tesla agreed to issue a software update so that “external security cameras no longer continuously film around a vehicle but are disabled by default until a user turns on recording, the Dutch regulator said. The last 10 minutes of recorded footage will be saved under the new settings, instead of the hour of footage that was previously stored.”
Tesla uses images from car cameras to train its artificial intelligence systems and reportedly has over 1,000 workers in the team that labels videos and images. We contacted Tesla about Yeh’s lawsuit and will update this article if we get a response.