Among the fanfare of Tesla’s donations of ventilators and BPAP machines to hospitals across the country, it seems strange that they are simultaneously engaging in an exercise that could work at cross purposes to their purported efforts to boost public safety.
In early March the company announced new hardware "upgrade" that will remove AM/FM radios from some of its car models. Removing this accessory not only eliminates a feature that consumers demand but could also make their drivers less safe in emergency situations. Why would Tesla do something in the name of consumer choice and at a time when they claim to be helping public health?
The answer isn’t entirely clear.
Over the last several years, electric vehicle manufacturers have claimed interference between their engines and AM signals that necessitated the elimination of AM radios. However, as former FEMA Administrator Brock Long contendsthey should look to revamp their design methods instead. In addition to a consumer valued platform for news and entertainment, AM radio remains a vital communications source for the government’s emergency management operations, which makes it imperative for all automakers to resolve any possible signal conflicts rather than remove AM radio altogether.
Now, however, Tesla isn’t just going after AM radio – it’s going after FM and XM too. Electric engines do not interfere with the FM and XM signals.
It appears, therefore, that “interference” is not the real reason for the radio’s removal.
At a time of crisis like now, having effective forms of communications is crucial to public safety.
Radio is the only form of communication that can ensure nationwide communication at any time of day. But despite these warnings from the country’s foremost emergency management experts, the Silicon Valley automaker has continued with its plan.
What could the reason be then, for dropping a service that is vital to the national emergency response network? The answer isn’t changing consumer preferences, because free radio remains incredibly popular. Over 90% of the U.S. population tunes in and more people listen to radio than watch TV. Although it makes sense that consumers overwhelmingly prefer this feature in their car, maybe Tesla views it as bad business to give something away for free. One thing is for sure: replacing free radios with "paid" digital platforms would certainly afford more opportunity to collect data on their customers, which can then be used as a revenue source.
Like many companies in the tech space, Tesla has a storied history of collecting data on its users in its quest to build a massive, profitable database. Its seeming control-and-conquer policy means that it could force Apple Car Play and other streaming companies surrender their data to Tesla if they ultimately replace our radios. Could this be a motivating factor?
If so, Tesla’s actions should give their consumers pause.
In 2014, for example, Tesla declined to sign onto a set of automotive privacy principles to protect personal information collected through in-car technologies. In fact, their vehicles are always in record mode, constantly logging locations and speeds as well as snapping video of locations and bystanders. This lead LA Magazine to refer to them as "mobile data mines."
The security of this data has also been called into question. As reported by The Drive:
"A publicly exposed kubernetes cluster operated by Tesla was compromised in 2018 and used to mine cryptocurrency; it was then found to be the same cluster used to house Autopilot data. In 2017, Tesla exposed a private key used by its maps server for more than a year and reportedly did not respond to reports of the vulnerability for more than two months before it was brought to public attention. There have also been reports of database dumps from Tesla, several of which include wireless networks and their corresponding passwords, all of which were stored in plain text."
Ultimately, consumers don’t want to lose their radios, and national security experts don’t believe removing them is safe. It appears therefore that Tesla’s move is primarily geared toward capturing consumer data. As Tesla uses this "upgrade" test to gauge whether future models will roll off the line with AM/FM radios or not, let’s hope they put the consumer first and reverse their plans.
The time is rarely right to remove one of the most consumer-friendly and popular features of cars, especially in a manner that concerns public safety experts during one of the worst crises to ever face our nation.
Travis Korson is a veteran of politics with years of experience in campaigns, communications, and public policy. He previously served in the Bush White House and has also spent time at various conservative organizations and government institutions including the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He is a graduate of the George Washington University where he studied International Affairs with a focus on International Economics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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