SHANGHAI— Tesla Inc.
it would never provide the US government with the data collected by its vehicles in China or other countries, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, said at a high-level conference in China.
Musk’s assurance that Chinese customer data is fully protected came after the Chinese government’s decision to restrict the use of Tesla cars by military personnel or employees of key state-owned companies, as the Journal first reported on Friday. Beijing had acted out of concern that sensitive data such as images taken by car cameras could be sent to the United States, according to people familiar with the matter.
Speaking via video link on Saturday to the government-backed China Development Forum in Beijing, Musk said that no American or Chinese company would risk collecting confidential or private data and then sharing it with their home government.
“Whether Chinese or American, the negative effects if a commercial company were to engage in espionage, the negative effects for that company would be extremely bad,” Musk said. If Tesla used its cars to spy in any country, he said, it would shut down everywhere, which he called “a very strong incentive for us to be very confidential.”
Concerns about commercial espionage have become overblown, Musk said, citing the case of video platform TikTok, owned by Chinese tech company Bytedance Ltd., which faced a US ban last year before being pardoned.
“Even if there was espionage, what would the other country learn and would it really matter? If it doesn’t matter, it’s not worth thinking about, ”Musk said. US concerns about Chinese spying through TikTok are irrational, he argued: The platform’s videos mostly show people “just doing silly dances.”
Tesla has been considered a model foreign company in China. It gained strong support from the Shanghai authorities to establish itself in the city, and in 2018 it became the first foreign automaker in China to gain approval for a wholly-owned factory – that is, without a local joint venture partner. . Chinese state banks financed the project.
China has also become a core market for Tesla, last year accounting for about a quarter of its global sales of roughly 500,000 vehicles.
As it continued to expand the Shanghai plant and increase local production of the Model 3 sedan and the Model Y compact crossover vehicle, Tesla had its first serious encounter with Chinese authorities last month. The State Administration for Market Regulation, the country’s main market regulator, publicly rebuked the company for quality problems.
Tesla responded with a statement saying that it “sincerely accepted the guidance of government departments” and would make improvements by having “deep reflection on [its] defects.
—Bingyan Wang in Beijing contributed to this article.
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