Tesla hides the worst of its self-driving software behind NDAs

Maybe it would be better if Tesla focused on making Full-Self Driving less dangerous, rather than on its image and narrative. But that’s not the Tesla way.

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Even Technoking Elon Musk, who loves to brag about Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) software, has himself at times struggled to praise for the company’s long-promised, long over-hyped feature. For the most part, though, Musk and Tesla are still very much pushing FSD as an inevitable triumph for Tesla owners.

Given that the beta version of FSD has been available for about a year now, you’d think we’d have seen way more demonstrations and stories about drivers’ experience with it. Well, Motherboard has learned the reason for this general lack of FSD content: Tesla asks every FSD Beta tester to sign a non-disclosure agreement to enter the company’s Early Access Program (EAP). The full NDA was not disclosed to the publication, though some key details were confirmed with multiple beta testers.

The NDA is particularly strict about how beta testers interact with the media. It outright forbids EAP members from giving members of the media rides in a Tesla vehicle that uses Full-Self Driving. Overall the legally binding document leaves beta testers with a strong message: You are responsible for Tesla’s narrative.

For the fanboys, not the media — The customers chosen to be part of the Early Access Program are hand-selected by Tesla. The only criteria Tesla has made public is a “safety score” calculated by a Tesla’s sensor arrays. The vast majority of customers selected for the program have been Tesla fanboys. Tesla loves to let its most dedicated fans speak on its behalf.

The NDA’s language makes it clear that EAP members are expected to assist in boosting the narrative that FSD is both impressive and constantly improving. “Do remember that there are a lot of people who want Tesla to fail,” the NDA says. “Don’t let them mischaracterize your feedback and media posts.” It also warns beta testers to share on social media “responsibly and selectively.”

Just a casual guilt trip before you even get on the road. Nothing like a little intimidation to get the ball rolling in the direction that leads to more cash from investors.

We can still tell it’s bad — Tesla is hopeful that hiding the FSD Beta behind a stack of NDAs will shield the company from criticism. In order for FSD to be successful, Tesla doesn’t just need the software to work — it also needs the public to trust it.

The problem with this strategy is that, NDAs notwithstanding, the Full-Self Driving Beta is just plain bad. It’s not capable of getting from Point A to Point B without nearly harming passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers. It only takes a few short videos to demonstrate just how not ready the software is. We appreciate beta software is just that, beta. It’s a work in progress, which is fine when you’re testing a feature for a phone, say, but not when you’re testing a feature for fast-moving chunks of metal with people in them.

We’ll probably see more FSD demo videos soon, given that Tesla just opened up the beta program to more customers.