Tesla and Data Privacy

Samford business school student A.K. Vance writes:

As technology and data have become more prevalent in our daily lives, concern about privacy grows. Governments and countries now worry about “commercial espionage” on citizens. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Trefor Moss discusses the implications of the ability for companies like Tesla to collect data on its consumers. China is currently attempting to restrict its citizens’ access to Tesla cars which have the capability to track and collect data on its owner. The Chinese government cites the fear that data including images which can be taken by the cars will be sold or given to the American government. Beijing has gone so far as to restrict the use of Tesla cars “by military personnel or employees of some state-owned companies”. Elon Musk has publicly stated that no data will be released to the United States or any other nation. The results of selling or giving such data or information to other governments could lead to many negative effects for Tesla and could cause a huge loss of Tesla’s business. In the last year, China made up a quarter of Tesla car sales. If Tesla did use their data capabilities to collect and give information to the United States government, they would risk losing a huge market for their product. Musk goes on to claim that such a violation of privacy could lead to a “shut down everywhere which is a very strong incentive for us [Tesla] to be very confidential”.

Related concerns over the Chinese application, TikTok, led to an attempt to ban the application in the United States due to its potential of collecting data on American citizens which could be used by the Chinese government to spy. As products become more integrated into the internet, privacy concerns may affect international trade. Companies might have a private incentive to protect customers, but that might not be sufficient. Legislation is still catching up to the changes in technology and new capacity to track individuals via “commercial espionage”.