Tesla Fires Autopilot Employee Who Posted FSD Beta Collision to YouTube

The ex-Tesla test operator says he didn’t violate any company policy by sharing the video.

byMar 16, 2022 2:31 PM
Tesla Fires Autopilot Employee Who Posted FSD Beta Collision to YouTube
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If you're a Tesla fan or someone who enjoys all kinds of self-driving tech—partial automation included—you've probably seen AI Addict's videos on YouTube. We've even written about them here on The Drive before, highlighting a clip of his Model 3 crashing into a bollard on public roads while testing its Full Self-Driving Beta. As it turns out, the person behind that channel was a Tesla employee named John Bernal, and he's since been fired by the automaker.

A report from CNBC confirms that shortly after posting what seems to be the first confirmed crash using FSD software, Bernal was let go from his position at Tesla.

via YouTube (AI Addict)

Bernal began working for Tesla in 2020 as a data annotation specialist before eventually becoming an advanced driver assistance systems test operator for the company. During his time there, Bernal also operated the YouTube channel AI Addict, which showed how his vehicle operated using the FSD Beta software. Bernal was transparent with his employer and the public about this, and he says he did not reveal any non-public information during his testing. He did, however, show certain scenarios where FSD Beta showed some safety flaws, including one where his vehicle collided with a bollard.

Tesla terminated Bernal in February. In a new YouTube video, Bernal confirms that his channel was cited as the reason for being separated from his employer. Bernal did not respond to our request for an interview at the time of writing and The Drive could not reach out to Tesla to verify or contest the claims, as the automaker dissolved its communications and public relations department some time ago.

The YouTube videos Bernal made were all in his personal 2021 Tesla Model 3, filmed off of company property and outside of company time. Bernal confirmed to CNBC that Tesla was offering employees access to FSD Beta for free when he purchased the car in December 2020, so long as the employee agreed to share vehicle analytics with the automaker. For regular consumers, it was priced at $8,000 rather than the $12,000 it costs today. It's not immediately clear if Bernal received this perk when purchasing his vehicle, though he does note in his YouTube video that he was using "software [he] paid for."

Bernal says that his videos are meant to educate the public by providing expert knowledge on partially automated systems. He is no longer able to do this with his car, as his access to FSD Beta was revoked shortly after he was fired, citing "recent driving data" despite allegedly having no safety strikes on his account. Fortunately, there are other Tesla owners with FSD Beta who are more than willing to share their vehicles with Bernal for testing.

It's not clear what internal policy Bernal may have violated that resulted in his termination; however, his managers reportedly noted that his YouTube channel was a "conflict of interest" and that it "broke Tesla policy." Tesla's social media policy, which was obtained by CNBC, had no direct reference to criticizing the employer's products in public, nor does it specifically reference YouTube as a social media outlet. It's also worth noting that Tesla no longer required FSD Beta users to sign a non-disclosure agreement for use of the software following the release of version 10.2 in October 2021. And while Bernal's managers discouraged him from uploading his videos to YouTube, the former Tesla employee says there was nothing in writing preventing him from doing so.

“A manager from my Autopilot team tried to dissuade me from posting any negative or critical content in the future that involved FSD Beta," Bernal told CNBC, referencing a meeting that occurred prior to his dismissal. "They held a video conference with me but never put anything in writing.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk described himself as a "free speech absolutist" earlier this month on Twitter as he criticized a request from some governments to block Russian news sources on SpaceX's satellite-based internet provider, Starlink. It feels almost backhanded to make that claim and also fire an employee for showing the same information that other YouTubers are also offering the internet. And perhaps even more perplexing is that more than 83 percent of Bernal's YouTube videos were not critical of Tesla's FSD Beta software, according to an analysis by CNBC.

While Bernal's future with Tesla may be nixed, he says that he still cares about the company and ensuring that its vehicles are safe. Unfortunately, his influence on the company's Autopilot software is now solely an external force.

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