China Fears Tesla Cars Could Be Sending Secret Locations to U.S.

Chinese authorities reportedly fear that Tesla's electric vehicles could record sensitive location information and send data to the U.S.

While the Elon Musk-led company has ramped up production in the country, including a major Model 3 and Model Y factory in Shanghai, Chinese officials now fear cameras or sensors on the cars could be a security risk, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

As a result of the concerns, use of Tesla cars will be restricted at Chinese government agencies, military facilities and housing complexes and some state-owned businesses, the newspaper said.

A government-led review of the technology inside the California-based firm's suite of electric cars reportedly led to the decision, with officials concerned that sensors could potentially record images of locations or expose data of drivers—including mobile phone contact lists that are synced up to the car's internal computer system.

Workers of government agencies have been asked to stop driving Tesla cars to work or complexes used to house families of those working in sensitive industries, the Journal reported. One fear was data could be sent back to the U.S., sources said.

Bloomberg reports that notices, which said that Tesla's cameras and sensors may "expose locations" and compromise confidential Chinese military information, appeared to be circulating on Chinese social media this week.

The Chinese government was concerned that it could not see or control what data was being collected by Tesla, Bloomberg said, adding that the military order purportedly advised owners of Tesla vehicles to park outside of any military property.

Tesla makes no secret about the fact its electric vehicles are packed full of sensors. In fact, they are a critical component in facilitating its assisted driving features.

All new Tesla cars have advanced hardware capable of providing Autopilot features as standard, with full self-driving capabilities coming in the future.

"Eight surround cameras provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of... objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system," it says.

The Model 3 and Model Y electric cars come equipped with an internal camera above the rear-view mirror, which is disabled by default. If enabled, it captures a short video clip in the event of a collision or an emergency braking, and sends it to Tesla.

"These clips will be used to help Tesla engineers develop safety features and software enhancements, such as collision avoidance updates and more," Tesla says.

Tesla has been contacted for comment by Newsweek. A representative told Bloomberg none of the Tesla cars sold in China come with in-car cameras enabled—and its privacy protection policies comply with the nation's national laws and local regulations.

Tesla Model S China
A Chinese consumer look at a Tesla Model S electric car at the Tesla Store in a shopping mall on December 18, 2020 in Beijing, China. Fred Lee/Getty Images