More Intrigue at Tesla As Automaker Sues Former Employee for Data Theft, Media Claims
Never far from (or out of) the headlines, Tesla has filed a lawsuit against a former employee, alleging the individual stole confidential data hacked from the automaker’s manufacturing operating system and sent it to third parties. He’s also alleged to have made false claims to the media.
The contents of the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Nevada against former process technician Martin Tripp, can be read here. In it, Tripp is alleged to have written computer code designed to funnel data from the company, installing it on several computers to keep the information flowing.
Tesla claims it is only beginning to “understand the full scope” of the activity, but said Tripp “admitted to writing software that hacked Tesla’s manufacturing operating system (“MOS”) and to transferring several gigabytes of Tesla data to outside entities.”
“This includes dozens of confidential photographs and a video of Tesla’s manufacturing systems,” the automaker writes in the lawsuit.
Besides his own, Tesla alleges Tripp installed the software on three other computers. Not only would this ensure a continued data stream in his absence, but it would implicate other employees in the theft, the lawsuit states.
A story published by Business Insider on June 4th used internal documents and an unnamed source to paint a picture of excessive scrap waste at the automaker’s Gigafactory battery assembly plant in Nevada. Tripp is also said to have told another media outlet that punctured battery cells were knowingly used in production Model 3 vehicles. At the time, Tesla refuted both of these reports.
In the suit, the automaker states “Tripp claimed that punctured battery cells had been used in certain Model 3 vehicles even though no punctured cells were ever used in vehicles, batteries or otherwise. Tripp also vastly exaggerated the true amount and value of “scrap” material that Tesla generated during the manufacturing process, and falsely claimed that Tesla was delayed in bringing new manufacturing equipment online.”
Tesla says it hired Tripp in October 2017, alleging that Tripp later complained his position was not a “sufficiently senior role for him.” He was later reassigned in or around May 17th of this year, the result of what Tesla claims was combative behaviour with his coworkers. Despite signing a routine confidentiality agreement, Tesla claims Tripp retaliated against the company by stealing information and leaking to the media.
The automaker says it confronted Tripp last week. During two days of interviews, Tesla says the employee confessed to the data theft and media leaks, and also to attempting “to recruit additional sources inside the Gigafactory to share confidential Tesla data outside the company.”
Via the suit, Tesla wants the court to order the inspection of Tripp’s computers,
personal USB and electronic storage devices, email accounts, “cloud”-based storage accounts, and mobile phone call and message history to determine the extent to which Tesla trade secrets were wrongfully taken and/or disseminated to others.” It also seeks “punitive” monetary damages — $1 million.
In response to a Twitter query from an Ars Technica reporter, asking whether this lawsuit is the same sabotage Musk warned employees about on the weekend, Musk replied, “There is more, but the actions of a few bad apples will not stop Tesla from reaching its goals.”
Musk’s reference to a “worst 1 in 1,000” ratio (the bad apple ratio, apparently) raised the question of whether we’re seeing the first of many lawsuits. To this, Musk had no answer.
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