Beijing: Tesla Inc. cars have been banned from Chinese military complexes and housing compounds because of concerns about sensitive data being collected by cameras built into the vehicles.
The order, issued by the military, advises Tesla owners to park their cars outside of military property, according to people familiar with the directive who asked not to be identified because the information is private.
The ban, relayed to residents of military housing and others this week, was triggered by concerns that the world's biggest maker of electric vehicles is collecting sensitive data via the cars' in-built cameras in a way the Chinese government can't see or control, one of the people said.
Images of what was purported to be a notice about the ban were also circulating on Chinese social media. Multi-direction cameras and ultrasonic sensors in Tesla cars may "expose locations" and the vehicles are being barred from military residences to ensure the safety of confidential military information, the notice said.
A representative for Tesla in China declined to comment on the military's move. China's Defense Ministry didn't immediately respond to a fax sent after business hours.
Tesla stock pared gains on the news Friday, before closing up 0.3% in New York.
Tesla, like many other automakers including General Motors Co., uses several small cameras, mainly located on the outside of the vehicle, to help guide parking, autopilot and self-driving functions. Most Tesla models also have an interior camera mounted above the rear view mirror that can be used to detect whether a driver is looking at the road, looking down at their lap, wearing sunglasses, or looking at something else entirely.
The California-based company - which produces Model 3s and Model Y SUV crossovers at a Gigafactory near Shanghai - hasn't shied away from that fact, with Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk tweeting in April 2019 that the internal camera is there "for when we start competing with Uber/Lyft and people allow their car to earn money for them as part of the Tesla shared autonomy fleet."
"In case someone messes up your car, you can check the video," Musk explained.
Since then, Tesla has started using cars' internal cameras to monitor what it calls FSD (full self driving) beta testers, or Tesla owners who have volunteered to test out the company's driver-assist capabilities.
Earlier this month, Musk tweeted that the company's FSD beta trial had been expanded to around 2,000 owners but Tesla had also "revoked beta where drivers did not pay sufficient attention to the road." Musk said the next significant release of FSD beta would be in April.
Concern over this program contributed to the ban by the military, one of the people said.
None of the in-car cameras in Teslas sold in China are turned on or part of the FSD beta trial, the Tesla representative said. Tesla's privacy policies comply with national laws and local regulations in China, the person said.
Appearing on Saturday at the China Development Forum, a conference organized by a unit of the country's State Council, in a session titled: The Next Disruptive Innovation?, Musk said that if Tesla ever used its cars to spy in China, or anywhere, we would get "shut down everywhere."
"If a commercial company did engage in spying, the negative effects to that company would be extremely bad," said Musk, who was beamed in remotely from America, where it was late in the evening. "For example, if Telsa used the cars to spy in China "- or anywhere, any country "- we will get shut down everywhere. So there's a very strong incentive for us to be very confidential with any information."
His comments came less than 24 hours after news broke that Tesla's cars have been banned from Chinese military complexes and housing compounds because of concerns about sensitive data being collected by cameras built into the vehicles. China, the world's biggest market for EVs, is key to Musk's global growth ambitions. The company sold more than 130,000 locally-built Model 3 sedans last year in the nation, now its second-largest market after the US.
The ban, relayed to residents of military housing and others this week, was triggered by concerns that Tesla is collecting sensitive data via cars' in-built cameras in a way the Chinese government can't see or control, a person familiar with the matter said.