A Tesla whistleblower leaked thousands of internal company files to a German newspaper.
Handelsblatt published a series of stories detailing unreported customer complaints and possible data mishandling.
One of the leaked documents contained a Tesla policy to only discuss customer complaints verbally, not in writing.
Thousands of documents leaked to a German newspaper indicate Tesla enforced a company policy that discouraged creating a written record of customer complaints involving acceleration, braking, and crashes.
According to Handelsblatt, the outlet received about 100 gigabytes of data from a Tesla whistleblower in the form of at least 23,000 files including PDFs, spreadsheets, and emails. The leak includes employee and customer data, as well as thousands of complaints involving Teslas accelerating on their own, crash reports, and allegations of emergency braking caused by faulty collision warnings.
The files also reportedly include a piece of Tesla employee policy that mandated employees communicate only verbally with customers about the details of their complaints, specifically instructing them not to put the reports in writing in emails, or leave details on voicemails.
"They never sent emails, everything was always verbal," one California doctor reportedly told Handelsblatt. The doctor reported an incident in 2021 claiming their car accelerated on its own and crashed into concrete pillars.
In a translated portion of the Handelsblatt story reported by The Verge and Jalopnik, Tesla employees were reportedly told to mark reviews and complaints as "for internal use only" and only correspond verbally with customers.
"Each entry also contains the note in bold print that information, if at all, may only be passed on 'VERBALLY to the customer,'" the translation reads."'Do not copy and paste the report below into an email, text message, or leave it in a voicemail to the customer,' it said. Vehicle data should also not be released without permission. If, despite the advice, 'an involvement of a lawyer cannot be prevented', this must be recorded."
Handelsblatt's editor-in-chief, Sebastian Matthes, posted a note alongside the story explaining the outlet's decision to publish the contents of the leaked data, which could violate European Union privacy law, after months of investigating the files and interviewing customer complaints.
"The data paints the picture of an electric car pioneer who seems to have far greater technological problems than previously known," Matthes wrote, according to a translation of the note.
Many of the complaints — which spanned from 2015 to 2022 — involved US-based incidents, with some coming from across Europe and Asia. Handelsblatt reported conversations with dozens of those affected by the complaints, including some who showed reporters video of the incidents or their communications with Tesla.
Tesla did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. In a response to Handelsblatt, the company urged the outlet to delete the "stolen" data and threatened legal action against the paper and the allegedly "disgruntled former employee" they believed to be responsible for the leak.
Reuters and Handelsblatt reported that investigators from Germany and the Netherlands, where the company's data was stored, are considering whether the leak of employee and customer data — including the potential leak of Elon Musk's own social security number — warrants an investigation.
Federal regulators have investigated issues with Tesla's self-driving software and accidents caused by other technical malfunctions reported across the US for years. The carmaker has also recalled and issued software updates for millions of cars and trucks following reported incidents.
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