John Bernal, creator of AI Addict at YouTube.
Courtesy: AI Addict
Tesla has fired a former Autopilot employee named John Bernal after he shared candid video reviews on his YouTube channel, AI Addict, showing how the company’s Full Self Driving Beta system works in various locations around Silicon Valley.
After Bernal’s firing, Tesla also cut off his access to the FSD Beta system in the car he personally owns, the 2021 Tesla Model 3, although there are no safety “strikes” in the software. It still has FSD, Tesla’s premium driver assistance program. Tesla’s technology isn’t making its cars self-driving today.
The FSD Beta option can best be summed up as a suite of new driver assistance features that have not been fully finalized or patched. Chief among them is “automatic city street steering”, which allows the car to navigate complex urban environments without the driver having to move the steering wheel. Customers must first obtain the FSD, which costs $12,000 up front or $199 per month in the US, and then obtain and maintain a high degree of driver safety, as determined by Tesla’s program that monitors their driving habits.
Although Tesla did not put forth written details explaining why he was fired, Tesla and other companies in Silicon Valley often foster a culture of loyalty. Internal criticism may be tolerated, but criticism in public is seen as disloyal.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Bernal’s situation.
The origins of his channel
Bernal started working for Electric car maker Elon Musk as a data annotation specialist in August 2020 in an office in San Mateo, California. He was fired in the second week of February this year, after transitioning into the role of an advanced driver assistance systems test operator, according to records he shared with CNBC.
As a lifelong car enthusiast proud to work at Tesla, Bernal placed an order for a 2021 Model 3 with a long-range battery a few months after starting work there. Received the car on December 26, 2020.
He says he bought the car in part because Tesla offered employees free access to the FSD — which was worth $8,000 at the time — as a perk. The employees had to agree to give the company the right to collect internal and external vehicle data in return.
Surprised by what he saw as “Tesla’s life-saving technology,” he launched the AI Addict YouTube channel in February 2021 to show what the public version of the FSD Beta could do.
Most of the videos show AI junkie Bernal driving around Silicon Valley with a friend in his Tesla, using the latest released versions of the FSD Beta.
Bernal wasn’t alone in posting his experiences with Tesla’s beta program. Tesla FSD Beta users like Dirty Tesla, Chuck Cook, Kim Paquette and many others rush to check out each new release on their channels.
‘I still care about Tesla’
When the company fired Bernal last month, the written notice of dismissal did not include the reason for his dismissal. This came after one of his videos filmed a car trip in San Jose where his car is Columns knocked while FSD Beta was engaged.
Just before his dismissal, Bernal says, managers verbally told him that he had “violated Tesla policy” and that his YouTube channel was a “conflict of interest.” They also advised him to sell merchandise marked “fully self-driving (Beta)”, and to use the FSD Beta in an unsafe manner.
Bernal said he has always been transparent about his YouTube channel, both with his Tesla managers and with the public. His online resume on LinkedIn, for example, has always listed his job at Tesla along with his YouTube channel name. Bernal said he’s never seen a policy that prevents him from creating tech reviews for the car while using his own property.
A copy of Tesla’s social media policy, which was provided by a current employee, does not directly refer to criticism of the company’s products in public. The policy states that “Tesla relies on the 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 disclosed anything in his videos that Tesla did not release to the public. “The FSD Beta versions I was showing off were end-user consumer products,” he said.
But his videos occasionally showed problems with Tesla’s FSD Beta system.
In March 2021, for example, AI Addict posted a video titled “FSD Beta 8.2 Oakland – Shut down calls, pedestrians and bikes!” Which showed his car was going through several “disengagements”. This is where the FSD Beta asks Bernal to take over the steering manually to avoid danger. At 11 minutes 58 seconds into the video starting, the Tesla FSD Beta system starts rolling into an intersection as the car was crossing in front of Bernal’s Model 3. It narrowly avoided hitting the other car.
Since then, this video has garnered nearly a quarter of a million views.
After turning it on for the first time, Bernal told CNBC, “A manager from my Autopilot team tried to dissuade me from posting any negative or critical content in the future involving the FSD Beta. They had a video conference with me but didn’t write anything.”
According to an analysis of his channel by CNBC, nearly ten of the 60 videos he posted revealed flaws in the FSD Beta. Three of the videos focused on other Tesla topics and did not discuss the FSD Beta, while three other videos focused on electric vehicles from other automakers and were not related to Tesla at all.
Bernal shared screenshots and photos indicating that his access to the FSD Beta was revoked by the company after his employment was terminated, although he did not receive any “strikes” due to unsafe driving or improper use of the system. Generally, FSD Beta users are allowed several alarms before access is revoked.
Losing access to the FSD Beta in his vehicle limited his ability to generate system reviews. However, he has gained access to other compounds with FSD Beta enabled, and plans to continue his independent research and reviews.
Bernal knew he might get attention by posting honest reviews of the FSD Beta. But as long as he was honest, he said, and given his generally positive views of technology, he thought Tesla would allow it or at least officially tell him if he needed to stop before he lost his dream job.
“I still care about Tesla, vehicle safety, and troubleshooting,” he told CNBC.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently described himself as a Absolute freedom of expression. But his auto company has a long history of asking customers and employees not to talk publicly about issues with their cars or business.
For example, like many large companies, Tesla requires its employees to sign an arbitration agreement that commits to resolving disputes with the company without public lawsuits. Employees or temporary employees can legally appeal and sometimes be released from mandatory arbitration and continue to spend their day in court, but such cases were rare.
Tesla also used to require customers to sign nondisclosure agreements in exchange for service.
When the FSD Beta was first rolled out, as CNBC previously reported, the company asked drivers who entered the Early Access program to be selective or refrain from posting on social media.
Federal vehicle safety regulators are concerned that the practice could have a chilling effect and hide critical safety complaints from the agency. They launched an investigation into the FSD Beta program as a result.
By September 2021, Musk said at a conference that the company should have no such restrictions whatsoever. He said at the Code conference during an interview with Kara Swisher that the FSD Beta testers “didn’t really follow it anyway.”
Clarification: After this story was initially published, Bernal said his Tesla managers verbally confronted him about two other issues at the time they fired him, including selling merchandise and improper use of the FSD Beta on his YouTube channel.