Walter Isaacson's Elon Musk biography has been the source of several interesting revelations, and the latest one to make headlines is about Tesla's approach on privacy, more specifically a controversial use for the internal monitoring camera fitted to the brand's cars.
As it turns out, Elon Musk at one point insisted on Tesla using the internal monitoring camera to record video of drivers' behavior behind the wheel, with the stated purpose of using the footage as evidence to defend the company from investigations in the event of a crash.
While most automakers have internal cameras to monitor driver attentiveness and warn drivers if they pay little attention to the road, Elon Musk wanted Tesla to take things way further.
Isaacson's "Elon Musk" book reveals that Tesla's CEO pushed internally to use the internal monitoring camera to record clips of Tesla drivers, initially without their knowledge, with the goal of using the footage as evidence in investigations related to the Autopilot ADAS.
According to an excerpt from the book posted on Reddit, Musk was convinced that bad drivers and not bad software were the main reason for most of the accidents. "At one meeting, he suggested using data collected from the car's cameras – one of which is inside the car and focused on the driver – to prove when there was driver error."
Gallery: 2022 Tesla Model 3
However, one of the women at the table pushed back, raising privacy concerns, namely the fact that Tesla could not associate the selfie streams to specific vehicle, even if the vehicle was involved in a crash, citing guidance from company lawyers.
Musk was not happy with the answer as the "concept of 'privacy teams' did not warm his heart," according to Isaacson. "I am the decision-maker at this company, not the privacy team. I don't even know who they are. They are so private you never know who they are," Musk said during the meeting.
He then suggested that a pop-up could be used to tell people that if they used Full Self-Driving Beta, Tesla would collect data in the event of a crash. The woman nodded, noting that "as long as we are communicating it to customers, I think we're okay with that." The exchange is quite telling of the way Elon Musk runs his companies, and also of his stance on privacy.
That pop-up exists in current Teslas and describes how the company will use data from the internal camera; the notification gives users the option of agreeing or not to Tesla collecting cabin camera data. It's worth noting that Tesla has not yet used internal images of vehicles to defend itself in lawsuits or investigations related to the Autopilot system.
Tesla is facing a class action lawsuit over video privacy after allegations that groups of Tesla employees privately shared highly invasive videos and images recorded by customers' car cameras between 2019 and 2022. A separate class action lawsuit in Illinois focuses on the cabin camera specifically.