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Tesla fired an employee after he posted driverless technical reviews on YouTube

Tesla fired an employee after he posted driverless technical reviews on YouTube

John Bernal, creator of AI Addict on YouTube.

With permission: AI Addict

Tesla has fired a former Autopilot employee named John Bernal after sharing honest video reviews on its YouTube channel, AI Addict, showing how the company’s Full Self Driving Beta system worked in various locations around Silicon Valley.

Following Bernal’s resignation, Tesla also cut off access to the FSD Beta system in the vehicle he personally owns, a 2021 Tesla Model 3, despite the fact that he had no security attacks in the software. He still has FSD, Tesla’s premium driver assistance software. Tesla’s technology does not make cars autonomous today.

The FSD Beta option can best be summarized as a set of new driver assistance features that are not complete or completely debugged. The boss among them is “auto steering on city streets”, which allows the car to navigate around in complex urban environments without the driver having to move the steering wheel. Customers must first have FSD, which costs $ 12,000 in advance or $ 199 per month in the United States, and then achieve and maintain a high level of driver safety, as determined by Tesla software that monitors their driving habits.

Although Tesla did not write details about why he was fired, Tesla and other Silicon Valley companies often promote a culture of loyalty. Internal criticism can be tolerated, but public criticism is seen as disloyal.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Bernal’s situation.

The origin of his channel

Bernal started working for Elon Musk’s manufacturer of electric vehicles as a computer annotation specialist in August 2020 at an office in San Mateo, California. He was fired in the second week of February this year, after moving into the role of test operator for advanced driver assistance systems, according to records he shared with CNBC.

As a lifelong car enthusiast who is proud to work at Tesla, Bernal placed an order to purchase a 2021 Model 3 with a long-range battery a few months after he started working there. He received the car on December 26, 2020.

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He says he bought the car in part because Tesla offered employees free access to FSD – then worth $ 8,000 – as a benefit. Employees had to agree to give the company the right to collect internal and external vehicle data in exchange.

Surprised by what he saw as Tesla’s “potentially life-saving technology”, he launched the AI ​​Addict channel on YouTube in February 2021 to show what the public version of FSD Beta could do.

Most of the AI ​​Addict videos show Bernal driving around Silicon Valley with a friend in his Tesla, using the latest released versions of the FSD Beta software.

Bernal was not alone in sharing his experiences with Tesla’s experimental software. Tesla FSD Beta users like Dirty Tesla, Chuck Cook, Kim Paquette and many others are rushing to consider each new release on their channels.

“I still care about Tesla”

When the company fired Bernal last month, his written separation notice did not include the reason for the dismissal. It came after one of his videos depicted a drive in San Jose where his car overturned bollards while FSD Beta was engaged.

Bernal says just before he was fired, executives verbally said he “broke Tesla’s guidelines” and that his YouTube channel was a “conflict of interest”. They also admonished him for having sold goods with the words “full self-driving (beta)” on, and for having used FSD Beta in an unsafe way.

Bernal said he was always open about his YouTube channel, both with the leaders of Tesla and the public. His online resume on LinkedIn, for example, always listed his Tesla job right next to his YouTube channel name. Bernal said he had never seen a policy that prevented him from making car reviews in his own time using his own property.

A copy of Tesla’s social media policy, provided by a current employee, does not directly refer to public criticism of the company’s products. The policy states: “Tesla relies on the common sense and good judgment of its employees to engage in responsible social media activity.” It shows social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, LinkedIn, WeChat and personal blogs, but does not specifically mention YouTube.

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Bernal said he never revealed anything in his videos that Tesla had not released to the public. “The FSD Beta releases I demonstrated were end-user products,” he said.

But his videos sometimes showed problems with Tesla’s FSD Beta system.

In March 2021, for example, AI Addict released a video titled “FSD Beta 8.2 Oakland – Close Calls, Pedestrians, Bicycles!” which showed that his car experienced several “disconnections”. This is where FSD Beta demanded that Bernal take over control manually to avoid danger. 11 minutes and 58 seconds into the video, the Tesla FSD Beta system begins to roll into an intersection just as a vehicle is crossing in front of Bernal’s Model 3. He barely escaped hitting the other car.

That video has since received around a quarter of a million views.

After it was first run, Bernal told CNBC, “A leader of my autopilot team tried to dissuade me from posting any negative or critical content in the future involving FSD Beta. They held a video conference with me but never wrote anything in writing. “

According to an analysis of his channel by CNBC, about ten of the 60 videos he posted revealed errors in FSD Beta. Three of the videos focused on other Tesla topics and did not discuss FSD Beta, while another three focused on other automakers’ electric vehicles and were not Tesla-related at all.

Bernal shared screenshots and images indicating that his FSD Beta access was revoked by the company after it was terminated, even though he had not received a “strike” for unsafe driving or misuse of the system. In general, FSD Beta users are allowed multiple warnings before access is revoked.

Losing FSD Beta access in his own car has reduced his ability to make reviews of the system. However, he has gained access to other vehicles with FSD Beta enabled, and plans to continue his independent research and assessments.

Bernal knew he could attract attention by posting honest FSD Beta reviews. But as long as he was truthful, he said, and given his generally favorable view of the technology, he thought Tesla would allow it or at least formally tell him if he had to quit before he ever lost his dream job.

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He told CNBC: “I still care about Tesla, vehicle safety and finding and fixing faults.”

Freedom of expression with exceptions

Tesla boss Elon Musk recently branded himself as one “freedom of speech absolutist.” But his car company has a long history of asking customers and employees not to talk publicly about issues related to their cars or business.

For example, like many large companies, Tesla requires employees to sign an arbitration agreement that commits to resolving disputes with the company without public lawsuits. Employees or temps can legally challenge and sometimes be released from the mandatory arbitration and continue to have the day in court, but these cases have been rare.

Tesla also used to require customers to sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for service.

When FSD Beta first rolled out, as CNBC previously reported, the company asked drivers who signed up for the early access program to be selective or refrain from posting on social media.

Federal vehicle safety regulators were concerned that the practice could have a cooling effect and hide critical safety complaints from the agency. They started a study in the FSD Beta program as a result.

In September 2021, Musk said at a conference that the company should have no such restrictions at all. He said at the code conference during an interview with Kara Swisher that FSD Beta testers “did not really follow it anyway.”

Explanation: After this story was first run, Bernal said that his Tesla executives verbally confronted him with two other issues when they fired him, including selling goods and using FSD Beta in an inappropriate way on his YouTube channel.

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