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Tesla Sets Up a Site in China to Store Vehicle Data and Ensure it Remains the Country

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【Summary】After getting flack from regulators over how electric automaker Tesla stores camera and sensor data from its vehicles in China, the California company is working with Chinese regulators and has set up a data site to securely store it. Automakers are facing growing scrutiny over how they handle data collected by vehicle cameras or sensors.

Eric Walz    May 25, 2021 10:50 AM PT
Tesla Sets Up a Site in China to Store Vehicle Data and Ensure it Remains the Country
Data collected from Tesla vehicles in China will remain in the country.

After getting flack from regulators over how electric automaker Tesla stores camera and sensor data from its vehicles in China, the California company is working with Chinese regulators and is setting up a site to securely store it, Reuters reports.

Tesla said on Tuesday it had established a site in China to store its vehicle data locally, as automakers are facing growing scrutiny over how they handle the data collected by vehicle cameras or sensors. For Tesla, this includes the Model 3 sedan and Model Y crossover, both of which are now being built in China. 

Tesla wrote in a post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo in early May that the data generated by all cars it sells in China, would soon be stored in the country, and the company kept its word.

Tesla equips its vehicles with cameras and sensors to capture images of a car's surroundings for its autonomous driving feature Autopilot and for added security. For example, Tesla' "Sentry Mode" feature activates and records from the vehicle's cameras if the vehicle is tampering with while parked. The feature is mainly designed to prevent theft or vandalism, But how these images are stored is a new challenge for the auto industry and regulators around the globe.

Tesla said its Sentry Mode is not activated for cars sold in China. However the company remains under scrutiny regardless.

In February, Tesla vehicles were banned from some military complexes in China due to security concerns over the cameras installed in Tesla vehicles. The Chinese government was concerned that the Tesla Model 3 vehicles are able to take pictures inside of secure complexes. The concerns were mainly on how Tesla stores the images collected from external cameras.

As reported by Reuters in March, staff at some Chinese government offices have been told not to park their Tesla cars inside government compounds due to security concerns over vehicle cameras, two people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters last week. 

China last month published draft rules to ensure the security of data generated by connected smart cars. The newly drafted rules stipulate that data collected from Tesla vehicles shall remain in the country, a company executive said last month, mainly due to national security concerns.

Last month, Tesla was also targeted by state media and regulators after a customer angry over the handling of her complaint about malfunctioning brakes, climbed on top of a Tesla display vehicle in protest at the Shanghai auto show. Videos of the incident went viral and brought much attention to Tesla's customer service practices in China.

Tesla also collects data from its vehicles in the U.S. In 2017, the company updated its data collection policy in order to improve Tesla's autonomous driving feature Autopilot.

Tesla emailed the following message to Model S owners, "To make self-driving a reality for you as soon as possible...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." 

The data collected from its U.S. fleet helps Tesla improve its machine learning algorithms for autonomous driving. Machine learning models require large amounts of data to get better at decision making. It's referred to as "training data".

In addition to building a platform to store vehicle data in China, Tesla is also boosting its engagement with regulators and is expanding its government relations team, industry sources told Reuters at the beginning of May.

China, the world's biggest car market and an important one for Tesla, so the company intends to work with local regulators to address any security concerns. China is also drafting rules to ensure the security of data generated by connected vehicles from other automakers over concerns about privacy and national security.

Tesla was also facing scrutiny in China over vehicle safety concerns and a high number of customer service complaints. As a result of the recent complaints, Tesla said it would boost its engagement with regulators and expand its government relations team, industry sources told Reuters earlier this month.

In addition to the new data storage site, Tesla said it was launching self-inspection to improve its services and work more closely with regulators. 

The goal for Tesla is to "build a harmonious external environment to support Tesla's business development in the regional market," the company said in a statement earlier this month.

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