German consumer organization sues Tesla for privacy violation

The Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (VZBV) is suing Tesla for deception. According to the German consumer organization, the American car manufacturer is silent that the monitoring functionality of Tesla cars violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). According to the interest group, this is proof that data protection is not in order in Europe.

The VZBV writes this in a press statement.

How Sentry Mode works and violates the GDPR

The case revolves around Sentry Mode. This is a feature that protects Tesla’s cars from outside obstacles, such as other cars, pedestrians, cyclists and bollards. This is made possible by a series of cameras attached to the vehicle that continuously monitor the environment.

The cameras also register pedestrians who happen to pass by and have nothing to do with the traffic situation at all. Sometimes recordings of these passers-by are stored in the car. According to European privacy legislation, this is equivalent to the processing of personal data. And there is no legal basis for this: after all, the passers-by have not given explicit permission for this.

In addition, it is not allowed to record unsolicited videos of what happens in the vicinity of a car. According to the interest group, the use of Sentry Mode is not allowed in public spaces.

Gaps in approval procedures

“Tesla’s Sentry Mode is designed to protect the vehicle. However, Tesla does not say that data protection in accordance with the GDPR is impossible in practice,” says Heiko Dünkel, head of the legal department at VZBV. He states that pedestrians who pass a Tesla car equipped with this monitoring feature must give permission to the driver to process their personal data. And that’s not happening. “So anyone who uses this feature is violating data protection law and risking a fine.”

However, violating European privacy legislation is not the main problem. According to Marion Jungbluth, head of the consumer organization’s Mobility and Travel division, there are gaps in the approval processes for automated driving features. According to her, the data protection impact assessment or DPIA (Data Protection Impact Assessment) should be examined. She also calls for better cooperation between the transport regulator and the federal data protection commissioner.

Deception about CO 2 emissions and sale of emission rights

Furthermore, according to the VZBV, Tesla is not honest about the consequences for the CO 2 emissions of Tesla cars. The car manufacturer says that everyone who buys a Tesla contributes to the reduction of CO 2 emissions. What the manufacturer does not say is that cars from other manufacturers are allowed to emit more because of Tesla’s savings. And that the company earns well from the sale of these emission rights.

At the end of last year, the interest group Tesla warned against these practices. The same goes for the privacy invasion of casual predecessors to Tesla’s Sentry Mode. For both cases, the VZBV has now filed a lawsuit with the court in Berlin. It is unknown when the verdict is.

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