Walter Isaacson’s new biography of Elon Musk works diligently to show the side of Elon that those of us in automotive media have known for years. The callous mercurial billionaire child-in-a-dad-bod has been known to put himself and his companies ahead of all else. One revelation from the book, posted as an excerpt on Reddit, exposes a meeting the Tesla CEO held in which he proposed using the car’s internal monitoring camera to record driver behavior behind the wheel in the hopes of disproving crash lawsuits as driver error.
Many automakers, particularly those with advanced driver aids (similar to those Tesla markets as “Autopilot” and “Full Self Driving”), use in-car cameras to monitor driver attentiveness and warn drivers if their eyes wander from the road for too long. Musk, according to Isaacson’s book, wanted to use these clips as evidence, initially without the driver’s knowledge. “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.”
Musk was convinced that it was the driver, not his company’s software, that was to blame for most of the highly publicized Tesla crashes.
One woman in the meeting raised driver privacy concerns. Legally Tesla could not associate any of these in-car videos with a specific vehicle or driver, even if a crash resulted. Isaacson reports that the “concept of ‘privacy teams’ did not warm his heart,” and that Musk said “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.”
In an attempt to acquiesce to the legal demands, Musk suggested a pop-up window when drivers activated the “Full Self Driving beta” driver assist system, warning the driver that Tesla would collect data in the event of a crash. This seemed to pass muster, and the woman replied “As long as we are communicating it to customers, I think we’re okay with that.” Car companies (and other companies for that matter) are free to data mine video with your consent.
For now, I think I’ll stick to my old cars that don’t record me at all. At least until privacy law has been updated to prevent any company from receiving that in-cabin video without my express consent on a per-video basis. That would be real nice.