Consumer Reports Has A Problem With Tesla's In-Car Cabin Camera

Illustration for article titled Consumer Reports Has A Problem With Tesla's In-Car Cabin Camera
Illustration: Tesla
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?

Tesla’s new camera (No. 7 in the illustration above, from the manual) watches you, transmitting images and video along with data back to the company. Consumer Reports is not stoked about it and has some privacy concerns. All that and more in The Morning Shift for March 24, 2021.

Advertisement

1st Gear: Privacy Concerns Unlike What You Get In A Cadillac

The newest Teslas have something called a “cabin camera,” which monitors the driver to see if the person is paying attention. This is a critical part of Level 2 driver-assistance systems like Tesla’s.

While these cars can do a lot to steer you down a road, there is tons that they can’t do. The car will regularly be forced to hand off control to the driver, and if a driver isn’t paying attention during one of these hand-offs, things can get deadly fast. Having a camera in the car to keep a digital eye on drivers makes sense.

The problem with Tesla’s system is that it transmits actual images and video, and that video can be dug into later, as Consumer Reports details:

Tesla’s driver-facing camera located above the rearview mirror in Model 3 and Model Y vehicles—which the automaker calls a “cabin camera”—is turned off by default. If drivers enable the cabin camera, Tesla says it will capture and share a video clip of the moments before a crash or automatic emergency braking (AEB) activation to help the automaker “develop future safety features and software enhancements,” according to Tesla’s website. Tesla did not respond to CR’s emailed request for additional information about its in-car monitoring systems.

[...]

John Davisson, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), says such closed-loop systems do not present the same privacy concerns as a system that records or transmits data or video.

“Any time video is being recorded, it can be accessed later,” Davisson says.

Do I want video of me driving a Tesla around in the hands of Tesla? No I very much do not. Tesla claims it will not be doing anything nefarious with the data, but Consumer Reports notes that there’s nothing stopping Tesla from doing some shady shit with it. Tesla is incentivized to do gross stuff with the video, really, like using it to blame drivers, not protect them:

Instead, says [Kelly Funkhouser, CR’s program manager for vehicle interface testing], Tesla seems to be using cameras for its own benefit. “We have already seen Tesla blaming the driver for not paying attention immediately after news reports of a crash while a driver is using Autopilot,” she says. “Now, Tesla can use video footage to prove that a driver is distracted rather than addressing the reasons why the driver wasn’t paying attention in the first place.”

Advertisement

There’s nothing stopping Tesla from using all this new consumer data “for other business purposes,” as Consumer Reports also explained. There are yet more privacy concerns, too, in that passengers in the car don’t necessarily consent to being recorded, and even the drivers who do consent may not be aware of all the data Tesla is collecting.

My immediate thought when I saw this was that CR must be biased. Cadillac also has a camera that watches drivers using its Super Cruise driver-assistance system. As it turns out, the Cadillac system is significantly more privacy-safe, as Consumer Reports lays out:

A GM spokesperson says that vehicles equipped with Super Cruise driver assistance technology feature a camera that works with infrared lights to determine the driver’s eye and head position. (This includes the 2021 Cadillac CT4, CT5, and Escalade, and the upcoming 2022 GMC Hummer EV.) If Super Cruise detects distraction or impairment, it will activate an escalating series of warnings for the driver to pay attention. The system does not capture images, store information, or share image information with GM, the automaker told CR.

Advertisement

Generally, it seems like if you need a camera in your car making sure that you’re paying attention at all times even as your car mostly takes control up until the moment everything goes wrong, the whole system itself is broken.

2nd Gear: Park Your Ram Outside Because There’s A Fire Risk Recall

Got a heavy-duty Ram? Take it out of your cavernous garage, as Automotive News warns:

Stellantis is recalling more than 20,000 heavy-duty Ram diesel trucks globally over an issue that could cause an engine compartment fire.

The affected vehicles include 2021 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups and 3500, 4500 and 5500 chassis cabs equipped with a Cummins 6.7-liter turbo diesel engine. In the U.S., the recall covers about 19,200 vehicles. It also covers an additional 685 vehicles in Canada and 223 in certain markets ouside of North America.

In a document filed with U.S. vehicle safety regulators, the automaker previously known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said the vehicles “may experience an engine compartment fire originating from an electrical short in the Intake Air Heater Relay, which can potentially lead to a vehicle fire” whether the ignition is on or off.

Advertisement

Be grateful you even have a garage big enough to fit a heavy-duty Ram in there, I guess.

3rd Gear: New Chinese Truck Brand Named “Tank”

Why mess around? If you’re launching a new truck brand, just go ahead and call it what you want people to think of it: an indestructible mass of all-crushing steel. That’s what Great Wall has done, as Reuters reports:

hina’s Great Wall Motor will launch a new standalone brand for its off-road vehicles, chairman Wei Jianjun said, as automakers pursue new segments when sales in the world’s biggest car market pick up.

Wei said Great Wall, the country’s top pickup maker, plans to launch the “Tank” brand during the Shanghai auto show this year in April.

Advertisement

If Great Wall had any sense, it would offer an actual tank at the top of the model range.

4th Gear: Fiat Is Cutting Toilets

Stellantis is looking to cut costs, and that’s hitting Fiat workers where it counts: their bathrooms. Fiat factories are cutting toilets and cleaning shifts, as Reuters reports, an unwise move during COVID:

Cost-cutting at Fiat’s factories in Italy has led to cuts in cleaning services and the number of toilets available to workers, according to unions.

Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, the new group formed in January from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Group, has said that production costs at factories in Italy are up to four times more than in the automaker’s plants in France or Spain.

Tavares has said the automaker will not cut jobs or close plants but he has promised more than 5 billion euros ($5.94 billion) per year in savings following the merger.

Advertisement

A good way to look like an awful boss is to screw around with the toilet situation.

5th Gear: Having An Algorithm For A Manager Is Dehumanizing And Leads To Strikes: Study

There has been a rash of strikes from gig drivers in China, and a new study points to a clear problem: their managers are algorithms. A new study detailed in tech site rest of world lays it out:

Earlier this month, dozens of drivers for the Chinese e-commerce giant Meituan took to city streets in Linyi, Shenzhen, and Tongxiang to protest a new policy that reduced how much they were paid per delivery. The demonstrations are part of a growing backlash against e-commerce companies in China over how they treat their workers. Though there were fewer protests in 2020 during the pandemic, strikes in China involving delivery drivers increased nearly fivefold between 2018 and 2019, according to one estimate. In January, a driver set himself on fire in the city of Taizhou to protest unpaid wages.

A new study by Harvard researcher Ya-Wen Lei found that how Chinese firms manage gig workers — operationally, legally, even down to the technology used — can make them more likely to feel that a strike or protest is their only recourse. Lei’s research, published in the American Sociological Review late last month, suggests that the way tech platforms treat their workforces can fuel labor unrest and comes as a number of countries are considering granting gig workers more rights of traditional employees.

Advertisement

Who could have guessed that being managed by a faceless, uncaring computer would leave workers feeling like strikes are their only recourse?

Reverse: Good Thing Oil Spills Don’t Happen Anymore!

Advertisement

Neutral: How Are Your Projects Going?

I replaced my valve cover gasket that was leaking with a new gasket that also started leaking. I re-mounted the new gasket, but it’s still leaking. It appears that not all “stock” gaskets fit all “stock” valve covers, so it’s time to order yet another new gasket and hope for the best.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

DISCUSSION

1st gear:

Just like a CEL, you can fix that camera with a small piece of electrical tape.