Tesla makes camera settings more privacy-friendly following DPA investigation
Car manufacturer Tesla has made the settings of its cars’ built-in security cameras more privacy-friendly, following an investigation into the cameras by the Dutch Data Protection Authority (DPA).
The DPA conducted an investigation into the Sentry Mode in Tesla vehicles. This is a feature intended to protect the vehicles against theft and vandalism, among other things. It does this by recording images using four external cameras on the vehicle.
When Sentry Mode was enabled, the cameras continuously filmed everything around the parked vehicle, and these images were saved for one hour. Following software updates, the cameras are now disabled by default. And if a user does turn them on, no more than the last 10 minutes of footage is saved.
‘Filmed without knowing it’
‘Many Teslas parked on the street were often filming everyone who came near the vehicle, and these images were being saved for a very long time. If every car were to do that, we’d have a situation where no one could go anywhere in public without being watched,’ says DPA board member Katja Mur.
‘People who walked by these vehicles were filmed without knowing it. And the owners of the Teslas could go back and look at these images. If a person parked one of these vehicles in front of someone’s window, they could spy inside and see everything the other person was doing. That is a serious violation of privacy. So it’s good that Tesla has taken a critical look at the situation and has made changes.’
Tesla has informed the DPA that, since the launch of the investigation, the company has made various changes to the Sentry Mode feature. For instance, now it responds only if the vehicle is touched, and not as soon as the cameras detect suspicious activity around the vehicle. In addition, the vehicle does not automatically begin filming but the owner receives an alert on their phone.
The vehicle can still record camera footage, but only when the user enables this function. If the camera is recording, the vehicle will display a message to this effect on the touchscreen inside the car and the headlights will pulse. This informs people that the vehicle may be recording them.
What’s more, the vehicle’s default setting is to save the last one minute of footage, which the owner can increase to a maximum of 10 minutes. Lastly, the images are stored in the vehicle, as was already the case, and cannot be shared with Tesla.
The DPA’s investigation has not resulted in a fine or other sanction for Tesla. That is because the investigation revealed that it is not Tesla but the vehicles’ owners who are legally responsible for the images that their cars record.
‘Thanks to the changes that Tesla has made, anyone who happens to walk by these vehicles is protected,’ says Ms Mur. ‘Tesla has also reduced the risk of the owners of its cars violating the law by illegally filming people.’
Rules regarding cameras
Built-in cameras on vehicles are subject to the same rules as, for example, the cameras that people install around their homes. In principle, it is forbidden to film public roads – only in exceptional cases are people allowed to intentionally focus cameras on public spaces. For instance, if there is a serious security problem and cars in the neighbourhood are regularly broken into. It is always the responsibility of the owner of the camera to properly set the camera up and respect the privacy of other people.
For more information regarding the rules for cameras at homes, in public spaces, at schools and in other places, visit the DPA’s website.