vzbv sues Tesla

vzbv accuses the car manufacturer of misleading environmental claims and a lack of information on how Sentry Mode works

  • vzbv's complaints are as follows: Misleading advertising about CO2 emissions when buying Tesla electric cars.
  • The activation of Sentry Mode in public spaces violates data protection law. Vehicle owners risk fines.
  • vzbv demands that the Kraftfahrt Bundesamt (German Federal Motor Transport Authority) and data protection agencies work more closely together.
Tesla an Ladestation

Credit: AdobeStock - logoboom

The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband e.V. – vzbv) has filed a lawsuit against Tesla at the Berlin Regional Court (Landgericht Berlin). vzbv accuses the car company of concealing the fact that customers are obliged to comply with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation when using Sentry Mode and risk a fine in the event of violations. With Sentry Mode, the vehicle's surroundings are continuously monitored by cameras. In addition, vzbv accuses Tesla of making misleading advertising statements about the CO2 savings that can be achieved when buying its electric cars.

"Tesla's Sentry Mode is designed to protect the vehicle. However, Tesla conceals the fact that data protection-compliant use is practically impossible," says Heiko Dünkel, Team Leader Litigation at vzbv. "Users would have to obtain consent for the processing of personal data from anyone who happens to walk by the vehicle. Those who use the function therefore violate data protection law and risk a fine."

Sentry Mode violates privacy

If Sentry Mode is activated for parked cars, several cameras attached to the vehicle permanently record the surrounding environment – including, as a rule, uninvolved passers-by. In certain cases, the recordings are stored in the vehicle. This is a case of personal data processing, which is subject to the General Data Protection Regulation. Moreover, the recording of events in the vehicle environment without cause is not permitted. In vzbv's opinion, therefore, the legally compliant use of Sentry Mode in public spaces is not possible.

"The fact that Sentry Mode was approved despite massive data protection deficiencies points to gaps in the approval procedures for automated driving functions," says Marion Jungbluth, Team Leader Mobility and Travel at vzbv. "The mandatory data protection impact assessment needs to be seriously examined. In Germany, cooperation between the Federal Motor Transport Authority and the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information must be strengthened."

Saved emissions are released by other manufacturers

In vzbv's opinion, Tesla also makes misleading statements when advertising the CO2 savings that result from buying its electric cars.

Tesla advertises its Model 3 online with CO2 emissions of "0 g/km". In addition, the advertisement objected to by vzbv states: "Tesla stands for a mission: Accelerating the transition to sustainable energy." And: "The Tesla credo: The sooner we overcome our dependence on fossil fuels and realise an emission-free future, the better." In vzbv's opinion, consumers therefore assume that they will reduce the overall CO2 emissions of passenger cars by purchasing the vehicle. For many, this is a decisive reason to switch to an electric car.

The reality is different: What Tesla cars save in CO2 may be emitted in addition by the vehicles of other manufacturers. And Tesla earns money from this. In 2020 alone, the group earned $1.6 billion from the sale of "emission credits" – emission rights that allow other manufacturers to exceed the limits applicable to their vehicle fleet. In the EU, this is done by several manufacturers coming together to form emission pools. However, prior to vehicle ordering the company only provided information to customers on the sale of the emission rights on page 30 of its English-language Environmental Impact Report, which could be downloaded from its website.

vzbv already issued a warning to Tesla in December 2021 and received a partial cease-and-desist declaration in relation to several clauses in the company's privacy policy. vzbv has now filed a lawsuit with regard to the environmental advertising statements and the information on the function of Sentry Mode.

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