China is restricting the use of Tesla’s electric cars by military personnel and inside of military complexes citing security concerns, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Specifically, the Chinese government is worried about sensitive data being collected by cameras built into the vehicles.
In a review of the vehicles, Chinese officials were concerned that the sensors in Tesla automobiles can record the data of their surroundings. Tesla can download when and where an automobile is being used; it can even download a user’s contact list off his cellphone.
The Chinese military has reportedly issued an order telling military members to park their vehicles off base property. Chinese Communist Party officials are worried that this personal information can be then transferred back to the United States.
Late last month several human rights organizations accused Chinese biotech companies of using human DNA for security purposes, such as tracking would-be criminals and Muslim Uighur people. Most biotech companies use DNA to develop medicines.
The restriction regarding Tesla’s vehicles comes as China’s President Xi Jinping is moving the Chinese market away from foreign technology. This could be a tit-for-tat move after the U.S. labeled Chinese tech giant Huawei a national security threat and sought to ban the use of Huawei-made communications equipment over concerns that data can be downloaded to Huawei and used to spy on American citizens for Beijing. Huawei denies the allegations.
Tesla is carving out a large share of the Chinese market, something that must worry Beijing. After carrying 12 percent of the Chinese market in 2019, Tesla’s sales jumped to 21 percent in 2020, topping $6.6 billion.
Both Tesla and the Chinese military have not yet commented on this story.
Tesla’s cars are hardly alone in their use of cameras to help guide parking, autopilot, and self-driving/parking functions.
Many of Tesla’s models have a camera mounted above the rearview mirror that can be used to detect whether the driver is watching the road, looking down at their lap, wearing sunglasses, or looking at something else. Most cameras are located on the vehicle’s exterior.
Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk posted on Twitter a couple of years ago 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 added.
Tesla had enjoyed a cozy, fruitful relationship with China, its Giga Shanghai plant is booming and was producing 1,000 cars a week in January. By March that number had jumped to 3,000, according to a report by Bloomberg. Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y SUV are both extremely popular among the Chinese.
Before this bombshell dropped it had seemed that Musk was the favored capitalist in Beijing. But there had been some warning signs: In February, Chinese regulators had taken Tesla to task over safety and quality control issues with its cars, not the least of which was battery fires and vehicles that accelerated abnormally. Tesla was forced to issue a public apology. Additionally, hackers in California were able to access cameras from several sites, including Tesla’s plant in Shanghai.