Consumer advocates sue Tesla: sentinel mode & misleading advertising

The Federal Consumer Association is suing Tesla. Because of misleading environmental statements and the sentry mode.

The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (vzbv) has filed a lawsuit against Tesla at the Berlin Regional Court. The lawsuit consists of two counts.

Accusation 1: Sentry mode violates the General Data Protection Regulation

The vzbv accuses Tesla of not mentioning that Tesla owners are obliged to comply with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation when using the Guard Mode function. Because with the guard mode, which can be activated when a Tesla is parked, the area around the vehicle is continuously monitored by the cameras installed in the Tesla. Introducing this Sentry/Guard mode here: Tesla will soon unlock Sentry mode .

In certain cases, the recordings are stored in the vehicle. This is the processing of personal data that is subject to the General Data Protection Regulation, as consumer advocates believe. In addition, the unprovoked recording of what is happening in the vehicle environment is inadmissible. In the opinion of the vzbv, the legally compliant use of the guard mode function in public space is therefore not possible.

“Tesla’s guard mode is intended to protect the vehicle. However, Tesla does not mention that data protection-compliant use is practically impossible,” says Heiko Dünkel, head of the legal enforcement team at vzbv. “Tesla owners would have to obtain consent for the processing of personal data from passers-by who happened to walk past the car. Anyone who uses the function therefore violates data protection law and risks a fine.”

Criticism of the Federal Motor Transport Authority

The data protection officers continue: “The fact that the guard mode was approved despite massive data protection deficiencies indicates gaps in the approval procedures for automated driving functions,” says Marion Jungbluth, head of the Mobility and Travel team at vzbv. “The mandatory data protection impact assessment must be seriously examined. In Germany, the cooperation between the Federal Motor Transport Authority and the Federal Data Protection Commissioner must be strengthened.”

The guard mode is also a thorn in the side of the Berlin police. You can read more about this in Berlin police warns about Tesla: Because of espionage – that’s behind it.

Accusation 2: Misleading advertising

In addition, vzbv accuses Tesla of misleading advertising statements about CO2 savings when buying its electric cars. Tesla is therefore going online for its Model 3 with CO2 emissions of “0 g/km”. In addition, the advertising objected to by vzbv says: “Tesla stands for a mission: to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy.” And: “The Tesla credo: The faster we overcome our dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a zero-emission future, the better”.

In the opinion of consumer advocates, customers therefore assumed that by purchasing the vehicle they would reduce overall CO2 emissions from cars. For many, this is a key reason to switch to an electric car.

According to vzbv, however, the reality is different: what Tesla cars save in terms of CO2, vehicles from other manufacturers may also emit. And Tesla makes money from it by selling “emission credits” — emission rights that allow other manufacturers to exceed the limits placed on their vehicle fleets. In 2020 alone, Tesla received $1.6 billion, according to consumer advocates.

Before ordering the vehicle, however, Tesla only provided information about the sale of the emission rights on page 30 of the English-language environmental compatibility report, which could be downloaded from the website.

The vzbv had already warned Tesla in December 2021 and received a partial cease-and-desist declaration with regard to several clauses in the company’s data protection declaration. The vzbv has now filed a lawsuit with regard to the environmental advertising statements and the information on the function of the guard mode.

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