On December 10, we published an appeal to Tesla to retrieve the Sentry Mode videos that could have been made on a burglary case. Chris Fenton’s Model S P100D had broken windows, but a USB stick without the corresponding Sentry Mode video of the action. Anyway, he knew Tesla makes a 72-hour backup of videos that could help discover who did this. We tried to help retrieve these videos, but there is none, according to Tesla. And the explanation for that is intriguing, to say the least.
Update: Chris Fenton informed us his USB stick was not full, but that it just did not have the video files. The article has been corrected to reflect that.
Gallery: Tesla, Can You Help Recover This Burglary Sentry Mode Video?
Before the company came to that conclusion, it has dealt with the case in a very confusing way. The first reply Fenton received from Tesla was the one you can see below:
According to the text, Tesla would not keep videos from customers due to privacy reasons. But that is only true if the customer does not authorize the company to do so. But Fenton does. Check what he said about this:
“Their terms read: ‘Separately, if you agree to allow us to collect video clips, Sentry Mode will send a short recorded video clip linked to your VIN to Tesla for temporary backup (up to 72 hours) when the Alarm state is triggered. We may also use this footage to help enhance detection for Sentry Mode.’”
So the alarm would have to go off for the videos to be collected. Fenton insisted. He received the assistance of Tesla employees that got in touch with us to help. That was when Tesla finally said it would be able to cooperate.
The company asked for the info to retrieve the video files and, a while later, sent him this message:
“Dear Mr. Fenton,
Your request has been forwarded to Tesla's Data Protection Office.
In the case of parked cars, your cameras may record events through Sentry Mode when an alarm was triggered.
Sentry Mode stores all the footage on your USB and shares some with Tesla for 72 hours, if you choose so and under some conditions.
In your case, no alarm was triggered.
Unfortunately, this means that we have no footage on our servers.
Data Protection Office”
And that’s it, but we are still intrigued. How can car windows be broken without setting the alarm off in a Model S? How can someone enter Fenton’s car, fold the seat to search for goods in the trunk without triggering the alarm? Do Teslas have only a door alarm? Don’t they have shock sensors, microphones, and pressure sensors?
Some readers say Sentry Mode can overwrite older files. In this case, considering Fenton still had room in the USB stick for the video, why wasn't it recorded? We know it only sends a backup to Tesla if the alarm is triggered, but what about the local files? Why weren't they created?
This episode brings some critical lessons. Tesla could offer Sentry Mode video backup regardless of the alarm going off as an extra service, for example. While it doesn’t, you have to provide the highest capacity USB stick you can to connect to your car. Or to clean it regularly.
Most of all, we have to discuss Tesla’s alarm system. If it is just a door alarm, with no other sensors, the company must improve it immediately. As Fenton unfortunately now knows, the Sentry Mode may not be enough to prevent burglaries or to go after the burglars in the end. At least not with an alarm that does not go off when it should.