China will restrict the use of Tesla to military and civil servants

SINGAPORE – The Chinese government restricts the use of Tesla Inc.

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vehicles of military personnel and employees of key state-owned companies, citing concerns that data collected in those cars could be a source of national security leaks, say people familiar with the efforts.

The move follows a government security inspection of Tesla’s vehicles, which Chinese officials have said is a cause for concern because car cameras can constantly take pictures, people said, as well as receive various data such as when, how and where cars are used. and a list of cell phone contacts that sync with cars. The government is worried that some data could be returned to the United States, people said.

The restriction comes as President Xi Jinping increasingly moves China away from technology as Beijing’s technological battle with the United States intensifies. The move appears to reflect U.S. restrictions on the use of communications equipment made by Chinese companies, including Huawei Technologies Co., a Chinese technology giant that Washington has identified as a threat to national security over fears it could spy on Beijing, Huawei denies.

Fear of the way technology manufacturers process data also underscores how the growing popularity of highly digital cars – packed with cameras and sensors and built-in connections that allow car manufacturers to collect data – raises concerns about privacy and even national security.

The Chinese government has informed some of its agencies to ask its employees to stop driving Tesla’s cars to work, people said. Some of the people said that Tesla’s cars were also forbidden to enter residential buildings by the families of staff working in sensitive industries and government agencies. Their agencies told them that the government’s concern was that Tesla’s vehicles could be in shooting mode all the time, using cameras and other sensors to record various details, including short videos.

The restriction applies to all individuals in military complexes, sensitive state-owned companies such as airlines, as well as government agencies, celebrities said. The Chinese State Council Information Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Chinese regulators are closely studying Tesla’s operations after recent videos on social networks seem to show the fire of the battery 3 in the model 3 and the malfunction of the vehicle. The WSJ explains that possible problems with the quality of Tesla’s cars could jeopardize the meteoric rise of the EV manufacturer. Correction: Tesla’s revenue in China amounted to 6.66 billion dollars in 2020, according to the report of the SEC company. An earlier version of this video erroneously stated that the figure was $ 66 billion. Photo illustration: Michelle Inez Simon

Tesla declined to comment on the government’s move. It was referred to the Wall Street Journal in a comment it had previously given to the Chinese media in response to previous data security concerns. “Tesla’s privacy policy is in line with Chinese laws and regulations. “Tesla attaches great importance to protecting the privacy of users,” it is stated. It is also stated that the cameras in the car are not included for all Tesla’s vehicles in China.

The Chinese market is becoming increasingly important for Tesla. Deliveries in the country last year helped the company achieve approximately 500,000 vehicle deliveries worldwide, a record. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has been widely celebrated in the country for years.

But as Tesla boosts production in the country, it is also subject to regulatory oversight. Authorities called the company last month, citing consumer complaints about quality problems.

On Saturday, Mr. Musk will participate online at the state’s annual global economic gathering in Beijing called the China Development Forum, where he is expected to give a speech. Among the participants in the event are mostly Chinese officials.

China is moving to strengthen its technology sector after Edward Snowden discovered the infiltration of key Chinese computer networks by the U.S. National Security Agency in 2013 and urges state authorities to start replacing foreign technology suppliers unless products can be seen as “secure. and under control ”by the security inspector.

More about Tesla and the electric vehicle market

In recent years, it has also published rules related to cyber security and data privacy, or their designs. This includes a draft version of the Personal Data Protection Act, released in October, which stipulates that certain organizations that process personal data must store personal data in mainland China.

In recent years, carmakers globally have collected vast amounts of data from cars moving on the streets, relying on cameras, sensors and computers loaded on vehicles used to detect what surrounds them due to safety features. This data is stored by car manufacturers on cloud-based servers.

Tesla’s vehicles have eight surround cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors and radar for their autopilot system, the company announced on its website. The Model 3 and Model Y vehicles also have a camera in the cab, installed above the rearview mirror.

When enabled, this camera records a short video clip and shares it with Tesla in the event of an accident, according to Tesla’s website. Tesla said that such clips were intended to be recorded a few seconds before the security event and that Tesla would use them to develop security features.

The Model 3 was the best-selling electric vehicle in China last year, with more than 138,000 cars sold, according to the Chinese Passenger Car Association – an eighth of the 1.11 million EVs sold nationwide.

Restrictions on Tesla appear to be limited compared to U.S. actions against Huawei in recent years. Washington has lobbied allies to rule out a leading 5G equipment maker as a Trojan horse that, once found on critical infrastructure in the West, China could use to spy on and steal sensitive data, posing a security and economic threat to the U.S. and its allies. . Huawei has repeatedly said it would never do that.

Write to Keith Zhai at [email protected] and Yoko Kubota at [email protected]

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