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

John Bernal, creator of AI Addict on YouTube.

Courtesy: AI Addict

Tesla fired a former Autopilot employee named John Bernal after he shared candid video reviews on his YouTube channel, AI Addicshows how the company’s fully self-driving Beta system works in various locations around Silicon Valley.

After Bernal was fired, Tesla also cut off his access to the FSD Beta system on the car he owned, a 2021 Tesla Model 3, even though there were no safety “warnings” in the software. He still has FSD, Tesla’s premium driver assistance software. Tesla’s technology today doesn’t make its cars self-driving.

The FSD Beta option can best be summarized as a set of new driver support features that are incomplete or not fully debugged. Chief among them is the “city road autosteer”, which allows the vehicle to navigate complex urban environments without the driver needing to move the steering wheel. Customers must first have FSD, which costs $12,000 upfront or $199 per month in the US, and then obtain and maintain a high driver safety score, as determined by Tesla tracking software their driving habits.

Although Tesla didn’t detail why he was fired, Tesla and other Silicon Valley companies often foster a culture of loyalty. Internal criticism is acceptable, but public criticism is considered disloyal.

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

The origin of his channel

Bernal started working for Elon Muskelectric vehicle maker as a data 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 a role of testing executive for an advanced driver assistance system, according to a filing he shared with CNBC.

A lifelong auto enthusiast proud to work at Tesla, Bernal placed an order for 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.

He said he bought the car in part because Tesla offered employees free access to the FSD — then worth $8,000 — as a perk. The employees had to agree to give the company the right to collect vehicle data inside and out for exchange.

Amazed at what he considers Tesla’s “potentially life-saving technology”, he begins AI Addic on YouTube in February 2021 to show what the public version of the FSD Beta can do.

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

Bernal isn’t alone in posting his experience with Tesla’s experimental software. Tesla FSD Beta users like Dirty Tesla, Chuck Cook, Kim Paquette and many others rush to review each new release on their channel.

‘I’m still interested in Tesla’

When the company fired Bernal late last month, his written separation announcement did not include a reason for the dismissal. It comes after one of his videos depicts a drive in San Jose where his car knock over cotton while FSD Beta was involved.

Bernal said that before he was fired, managers told him he had “broken Tesla policy” and that his YouTube channel was a “conflict of interest.”

Bernal said he has always been transparent about his YouTube channel, both with his managers at Tesla and with the public. For example, his online resume on LinkedIn, always lists his Tesla job right next to his YouTube channel name. Bernal said he has never seen a policy prohibiting him from creating car technology reviews during his own time using his property.

A copy of Tesla’s social media policy, provided by a current employee, makes no direct mention of criticizing the company’s products in public. The policy states, “Tesla relies on common sense and good judgment of its employees to engage in responsible social media activity.” It lists social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Snapchat, LinkedIn, WeChat and personal blogs, but does not specifically mention YouTube.

Bernal said he never reveals anything in his videos that Tesla hasn’t released to the public. “The FSD Beta releases that I am demonstrating are end-user consumer products,” he said.

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

For example, in March 2021, AI Addict posted a video titled “FSD Beta 8.2 Oakland – Shortcut, Pedestrians, Bicycles!” that shows his car has gone through some “falling apart”. That’s where the FSD Beta required Bernal to steer it manually to avoid danger. At 11 minutes and 58 seconds into the video, the Tesla FSD Beta system begins to crash into an intersection just as a vehicle is crossing in front of Bernal’s Model 3. He is able to avoid hitting another vehicle.

Since then, that video has racked up about a quarter of a million views.

After it first ran, Bernal told CNBC, “A manager from my Autopilot team tried to prevent me from posting any negative or critical content in the future regarding the FSD Beta. They held a video conference with me but never wrote anything.”

According to an analysis of his channel by CNBC, about 10 of the 60 videos he posts revealed bugs in the FSD Beta. Three of the videos focus on other Tesla topics and do not discuss the FSD Beta, while the other three focus on electric vehicles from other automakers and are completely unrelated to Tesla.

Bernal shared screenshots and images showing that his FSD Beta access was revoked by the company after his contract was terminated, although he hasn’t received any “warnings” yet. for unsafe driving or improper use of the system. In general, FSD Beta users are allowed a number of warnings before access is revoked.

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

Bernal knows he can get attention by posting honest FSD Beta reviews. But as long as he’s honest, and gives his generally favorable view of the technology, he thinks Tesla will allow it or at least officially tell him if he needs to stop before it does. He lost his dream job.

“I’m still concerned about Tesla, vehicle safety, and finding and fixing bugs,” he told CNBC.

There are exceptions to freedom of speech

Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently called himself a “the tyranny of free speech.” But his car company has a long history of asking customers and employees not to speak publicly about problems with their cars or their business.

For example, like many large companies, Tesla requires its employees to sign an arbitration agreement that commits to resolving conflicts with the company without a public lawsuit. Employees or temps can be legally challenged and sometimes released from mandatory arbitration and continue to have their days in court, but those cases are rare.

Tesla also asked customers to sign secret agreement exchange for service.

When the FSD Beta first launched, as CNBC previously reported, the company asked drivers who signed up for the early access program to selectively or limit posting on social media.

Federal vehicle safety regulators are concerned that the practice could have a chilling effect and mask important safety complaints from the agency. Surname start a poll the result is into the FSD Beta program.

In September 2021, Musk said at a conference that the company shouldn’t have any such restrictions. He said at Code Conference in an interview with Kara Swisher that FSD Beta testers “didn’t really follow it anyway.”

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