Tesla Says Its In-Vehicle Cameras Aren’t Activated in China

Tesla told Chinese consumers that cameras installed in its cars aren’t activated outside of North America, in response to privacy concerns about sensitive data being collected by in-cabin cameras and shared with the US automaker.

On Wednesday, Tesla’s Beijing unit released a statement on its Chinese social media page, which read that the company is equipped with a world-leading network security system to protect user’s privacy.

“Even in the US, car owners can freely choose whether to turn on the camera or not,” said the company on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

Tesla uses in-car cameras to record and transmit video footage of passengers to develop self-driving technology. Inside a Model 3 and Model Y, the interior camera can capture moments before an automatic emergency braking or a crash occurs.

The car could potentially share the footage with Tesla. Influential US magazine Consumer Reports said in March that the company’s abilities could expand to record drivers for other business purposes.

The Chinese military has banned Tesla cars from entering its building complexes, citing national security concerns over the in-vehicle cameras, Reuters reported in March. Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese government has restricted the use of Tesla vehicles by military personnel and employees of sensitive state-owned companies. Industry watchers said that the move echoed Washington’s actions against Huawei.

At the China Development Forum, a virtual event held by a unit of China’s State Council in March, not long after reports of the ban were published, Tesla’s founder Elon Musk denied the company would leak users’ information.

“There’s a very strong incentive for us to be very confidential with any information,” Musk said. “If Tesla used cars to spy in China or anywhere, we will get shut down.”

In 2019, Tesla became the first foreign car manufacturer to operate a wholly-owned factory in China with its Shanghai plant. The country is Tesla’s largest market, trailing only the US, and accounted for about 30% of its deliveries last year.

However, Chinese authorities summoned the company in February over quality issues including battery fires.

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Tesla has become the world’s most valuable carmaker by market capitalization, despite an output that is far lower than the likes of Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors. Last week, the company announced better-than-expected first-quarter results, saying it delivered 184,000 vehicles worldwide, beating Wall Street’s estimates of 172,230.