Elon Musk has sent his Tesla lawyers to silence a critic of the company’s self-driving technology for “misrepresenting” a driver-assistance system he says could bring it billions of dollars in profits.
In a cease and desist letter seen by The Washington PostThe carmaker claims that videos posted online by the so-called “Project Dawn” showing Tesla vehicles going through child-sized crash test dummies while allegedly using FSD are defamatory and should be taken down .
“The alleged tests abuse and misrepresent the capabilities of Tesla’s technology and ignore widely accepted tests conducted by independent agencies,” Tesla Deputy General Counsel Dina Eskin wrote in a letter dated Aug. 11, cited by the newspaper.
The video has already been viewed roughly 1 million times, prompting amateur Tesla fans — many of whom own shares in the company — to try to replicate the test with real children to prove otherwise, only for YouTube content moderators to intervene.
According to The Washington Postthe company’s lawyers leaned on claims by Tesla-friendly website Electrek that the FSD was “never engaged” because it required mapping data activation and the test was conducted on a closed course.
The Dawn Project responded at the time by providing the website with an affidavit that the FSD was activated “in the manner specified in the owner’s manual.”
The cease-and-desist letter gave Dan O’Dowd, the auto industry supplier behind the Dawn project, the chance to use Musk’s words against him and ridicule the entrepreneur for past claims he would buy Twitter to protect basic human rights.
“The master fraudster Musk is threatening to sue me over a TV ad.” Turns out Mr. Free Speech Absolutist is just another crybaby hiding behind his lawyer’s skirt.” O’Dowd shoutedCEO and owner of Green Hills Software.
Potential earnings are ‘crazy’
Speaking of Publishhe rejected the order from Tesla’s lawyers and said he had no intention of taking down the video.
In January, O’Dowd appeared out of nowhere to buy full-page ads warning Americans about the risks of FSD and claiming he would “organize opposition to Musk’s ill-advised experiment with an FSD car robot,” sparking accusations that he was acting on order of competing car manufacturers.
The Dawn Project claims that millions of people will die every day if Tesla’s FSD, as it stands, can be run unattended. It wants to ban dangerous software from safety-critical systems that could potentially be targeted by hackers, both rogue and state-sponsored.
For Musk, who called Green Hills software “a pile of garbage,” FSD offers the promise of potentially $50 billion or more in additional annual revenue with the kind of high double-digit margins typical of the software industry.
“You do the numbers and it’s like wow, could it really be that crazy, but it could be that crazy,” he told shareholders at the annual meeting this month.
Musk first released the highly touted but unfinished software in the October 2020 when he gave selective access initially to about 1,000 customers.
At the time, Musk claimed that FSD was in “beta,” a software industry term for when there may be some final remaining bugs in the code that need to be identified before the finished product can be delivered to customers.
In Tesla’s case, he came to accept the importance of a work-in-progress, undergoing continuous development cycles for more than two years, during which Musk made major revisions to the software build.
Last September, he expanded the beta to what he said were reliable drivers who ranked highest in his company’s own safety score. (Major social media influencers such as fund manager and Tesla bull Ross Gerber, however, were notably allowed to jump the line).
This allowed Musk, who effectively redefined the term “beta,” to hire his loudest fans to serve as FSD developers.
Not only do they provide a constant stream of new data that he can mine to make improvements, Musk also shifts responsibility for any resulting accidents onto his paying customers in the process, as Tesla’s lawyers insist on the fine print, classifying it as driver assistance function.
At this month’s shareholder meeting, he said more than 100,000 FSD owners in North America have already accumulated more than 40 million miles and counting — valuable data he can use to continue to feed his machine learning neural networks .
11 Augth a letter from Tesla attorney Eskin defends the company’s claims about FSD safety, citing “experience shared by our customers.” But a revealing exchange this week shows why they should also be taken with a grain of salt.
James Locke, founder of a Tesla Owners Club, is one of the few who bought an FSD that got access right away. When he tweeted on Tuesday that the latest version 10.69 still needed a lot of work, the Tesla CEO cut back.
Musk, never one to balk at the effusive praise for FSD posted on social media, told Locke that he shouldn’t have volunteered to test the beta if he had a problem with it.
“Let me get something straight, James contacted me directly to be included in the *early* beta, which is only about 1,000 cars, mostly employees,” he wrote. “The early beta specifically has issues or will be widely distributed, so publicly criticizing something he requested is wrong.”
After Locke apologized under pressure from other Tesla fans, he tagged Musk two days later in another tweet, praising how “amazing” the software was in an apparent reversal of his initial criticism.
The incident suggests that potential Tesla FSD customers may want to carefully consider competing claims on social media, whether from O’Dowd or Musk, before paying for a feature that will soon cost $15,000.
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