Electric Assist

China Forces Tesla and Other EV Makers to Turn Over Driver Data

Every vehicle in the nation shares 61 data points — including its real-time location.

11. 29. 18 by Kristin Houser
Tag Hartman-Simkins
Image by Tag Hartman-Simkins

Eyes on EVs

If you drive a Tesla in China, the government knows where your vehicle is at all times.

That’s according to a bombshell AP News story published Thursday. It claims Chinese law requires Tesla and more than 200 other electric vehicle makers to send the government constant updates on any vehicles driven in the nation.

Those updates include the real-time location of each EV, as well as 60 other data points — everything from the EV’s motor function to its battery status.

No Surveillance Here

According to Chinese officials, the information China collects about EVs isn’t used for citizen surveillance — it helps them improve public safety, plan infrastructure, and ensure manufacturers aren’t committing fraud in order to take advantage of government subsidy programs.

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Meanwhile, EV makers appear to see turning over this data as simply the cost of doing business in the quickly growing Chinese market.

Business as Usual

In the U.S., government officials would likely need a court order to access the kind of information China collects from EV makers.

But in China, surveillance is a way of life. The government monitors everything residents do online and is able to identify individuals just by looking at their face or how they walk. Some Chinese companies even keep an eye on workers’ brainwaves.

It’s not surprising, then, that at least some EV owners are relatively unfazed by the news of China’s vehicle monitoring. “It’s useless to be concerned about it,” Tesla owner Min Zeren told AP News. “If you’re concerned about it, then there’s no way to live in this country.”

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Playing Ball

The situation might not worry EV drivers, but it should give EV makers pause, according to surveillance expert Michael Chertoff.

“If what you’re doing is giving a government of a more authoritarian country the tools to have massive surveillance,” he told AP News, “I think then companies have to ask themselves, ‘Is this really something we want to do in terms of our corporate values, even if it means otherwise forgoing that market?’”

For now, at least, the answer appears to be “Yes.”

READ MORE: China’s Electric Vehicle Monitoring Raises Surveillance Fear [AP News]

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More on EV tracking: China Is Rolling out a Mandatory Program That Puts Tracking Chips in Every Car


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