Tesla to employees: if you leak, we’ll catch you, we’ll fire you, and we might sue you

By Elizabeth Lopatto

Photo by Shannon Liao / The Verge

Tesla employees received an email today listing firing, felony charges, and lawsuits as potential consequences for leaking information about the electric vehicle-maker to the press, CNBC reported. The email, which was sent by Tesla’s security team, listed recent actions the company had taken against employees who had leaked.

One former employee had “exfiltrated confidential business information from the Tesla domain to his personal account and threatened to disclose confidential company information,” according to the email. Tesla has filed felony charges against this person, the email said. It also listed two lawsuits against former employees over intellectual property and “stealing proprietary information and trade secrets.”

It is the latest salvo in Silicon Valley’s attempts to quiet leaks — and the latest that has leaked to the press. Google sent a similar email in 2016, describing how the company hunts internally for leakers. In April 2018, an Apple email leaked that described how the company had 12 employees arrested for leaking information on the company’s future plans. In 2018, after Buzzfeed published an internal memo from a Facebook executive, Facebook employees castigated leakers on their internal forums: ”How fucking terrible that some irresponsible jerk decided he or she had some god complex that jeopardizes our inner culture and something that makes Facebook great?”

Secrecy is a major part of Silicon Valley culture, where so-called “mouse traps” — USB sticks containing sensitive data — are sometimes left around to see if employees will behave, according to reporting from The Guardian last year.

Tesla is an eventful company — and lately, a lot has been going on. The company is attempting to raise more capital. CEO Elon Musk has also pushed a driverless future to Tesla investors, touting the company’s hardware development. Meanwhile, a Nikkei report has suggested tensions between Tesla and its main battery supplier, Panasonic. And Trump’s trade tariffs may pose problems for Autopilot’s future in China.

Today’s email focuses on leaks to media, as well as leaks of information to competitors. But it wouldn’t be Tesla if someone weren’t in trouble for using Twitter — in this case, an employee who was fired “for sharing confidential business information on Twitter, including production numbers, with journalists.”