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Korea's privacy watchdog denies Tesla Autopilot probe

May 28, 2024 - 14:48 By Moon Joon-hyun
(Tesla Korea)

South Korea's privacy watchdog has denied claims from a news report suggesting the agency is specifically investigating Tesla for potential privacy violations related to the carmaker's Autopilot system.

The Personal Information Protection Commission clarified that its current efforts are part of a broader privacy policy initiative that involves all smart cars and self-driving mobility systems, not just Tesla’s Autopilot.

On Tuesday, a local daily reported that the Personal Information Protection Commission has been examining whether self-driving car developers, especially Tesla, comply with Korean privacy laws, particularly concerning camera footage transmission from vehicles to the United States, where Tesla's headquarters are located. The commission reportedly planned to complete its investigation by the end of the year and implement corrective measures if any violations were found.

In response, a PIPC spokesperson told The Korea Herald that the report likely misinterprets the commission's broader policy initiative published in February earlier this year. This initiative outlined plans to to examine data collection transparency, types and processing in the development of autonomous vehicles across all manufacturers, without targeting any particular company.

The spokesperson explained that the focus on smart cars, including autonomous driving systems, was just one part of the PIPC's 2024 policy initiative, which also covers artificial intelligence and super apps.

"Our policy initiative does not specify investigating Tesla or examining overseas data transfers. Even if privacy issues are identified in any automaker's autonomous systems, implementing corrective measures such as bans or regulations is a separate matter," the spokesperson said.

Tesla’s Autopilot system uses eight cameras to capture a 360-degree view, generating extensive datasets to refine its self-driving technology. Unlike traditional dashcams that do not typically transmit data externally, Tesla’s system could raise privacy concerns if personal information, such as bystanders' faces, is transmitted to the US without consent. The news report suggested that transmitting unmasked footage revealing individuals’ identities could violate portrait rights.

"The unauthorized overseas transfer of personal information, such as faces and locations captured in public, could pose significant privacy issues, and we intend to investigate this matter thoroughly," an anonymous PIPC official was quoted in the news report.

South Korea's revised Personal Information Protection Act, effective since September of last year, restricts mobile image processing devices in public places for business purposes. Exceptions are made only for emergencies, such as crimes or disasters, provided the recording is clearly disclosed, and there are no objections from those being recorded.