Anyone who understands how a lot of current technology works also knows that companies love to collect data on customer usage. Stores with a loyalty card track your purchases and buying habits. Web browsers give you cookies that affect the ads you see, and Google reads your emails and search terms to do the same. It is a consequence of living in a ‘smart’ world. So it should be no surprise that Tesla collects your data as well, even that from features like Sentry mode.
Tesla’s Data Collection
Any reputable company will have a policy in place regarding their data collection practices so that users know just what their information is doing and where it is going. With over 720,000 vehicles sold since 2012, Tesla has a large pool of data to pull from thanks to all of those equipped cameras and sensors. Tesla reports that a lot of its collected data is used to improve the operation of Autopilot:
“We are working hard to improve autonomous safety features and make self-driving a reality for you as soon as possible.
In order to do so, we need to collect short video clips using the car’s external cameras to learn how to recognize things like lane lines, street signs, and traffic light positions. The more fleet learning of road conditions we are able to do, the better your Tesla’s self-driving ability will become.”
Now, Tesla claims that the data collection program is opt-in, so consumers are not required to participate. It also states that any video clips captured are completely anonymous.
“We want to be super clear that these short video clips are not linked to your vehicle identification number. In order to protect your privacy, we have ensured that there is no way to search our system for clips that are associated with a specific car.”
Tesla Sentry Mode
However, a recent language change in Tesla’s data collection policy (as reported by Electrek) reveals that this is no longer necessarily the case.
“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.”
Tesla’s Sentry Mode first came into existence as a way to help deter vehicle break-ins and vandalism. While it is a great idea, one of the most prominent concerns regarding this feature was the fact that videos were stored on a local flash drive. Criminals could potentially steal the drive to prevent owners from obtaining video evidence of their crime. With this new policy, owners could recover those files even if the drive goes missing.
There are a few drawbacks to this, of course. Anytime data goes from local storage to a cloud service, it runs the risk of being intercepted by someone who was not the intended recipient. This includes people such as Tesla employees, employees of the cloud service used to store the data, and hackers. This makes the retention of one’s Sentry Mode videos a viable privacy concern.
Overall I believe that the good outweighs the bad. Being able to access my car’s security footage is much more important to me than worrying about someone else getting a look at it along the way.