The Chinese military has decided to ban all Tesla vehicles from housing complexes and bases after citing them as a potential security risk. Since the cars use an array of ultrasonic sensors and cameras to create a panoramic view used for advanced driving features, China is concerned the American brand could use the cars to covertly map out sensitive areas.
According to Bloomberg, the new guidelines stipulate that all Tesla owners park vehicles outside all military facilities. While the official sources for those claims were left anonymous, Chinese social media did see residents of military housing make mention of the rule change earlier this week. The Wall Street Journal likewise reported that government agencies have asked staff not to drive Tesla models to work anymore.
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 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.
Tesla has always discussed its camera system as essential for advanced driving capabilities, with Elon Musk suggesting they also have security applications. But it hardly seems reasonable to point the finger at the brand when practically every automaker is outfitting their own products with the same kind of sensing equipment and the connectivity to theoretically broadcast that information anywhere there’s an internet connection. For our purposes, that just means more complaints about customer data rights and privacy violations. But China’s been perpetually concerned with informational warfare and had been trying to position itself favorably against the United States.
We’re wondering if this is just the start of something more serious. China has made it abundantly clear that it wants to become the dominant global superpower by 2028 and has begun mobilizing its military against American allies. Numerous analysts have also suggested China and the U.S. are already engaged in economic and political warfare. That doesn’t bode well for the future of American firms hoping to sell cars (or anything else) within the region. Additional restrictions seem unavoidable if relations between the two countries worsen.
Meanwhile, we’re still wondering why so few people are relaying these types of privacy concerns to the private sector. Governments around the world are talking about data protection and how to restrict the flow of information online via national security laws. But hardly anyone is issuing those same concerns to the automakers that are putting driver-facing cameras into cars that can track your every move.