What just happened? Tesla has never been slow to call in the lawyers if it feels the need. The latest person to incur its wrath is software engineer Alex Khatilov, who is being sued by the automaker for allegedly stealing a slew of sensitive files and code and storing it in his personal Dropbox account—three days after starting the job.
In the lawsuit, Khatilov is accused of downloading 26,000 files relating to Tesla’s Warp Drive backend software, used to automate many of the company’s essential business processes, “with the deliberate intent to injure Tesla’s business.”
CNBC reports that Khatilov was hired on December 28, 2020, as part of Tesla’s Quality Assurance team. His job was to create software that could automate tasks or business processes related to Environment, Health and Safety. But he allegedly started uploading the sensitive files and Python scripts, which only around 40 employees could access, to his Dropbox account.
Speaking to the New York Post, Khatilovm said he was told to download the data from the system while working remotely because he would be using it. He claims to have been trying to make a backup copy of a folder containing the files but “unintentionally” moved them to his Dropbox. “I didn’t know that there was 26,000 files there,” Khatilovm told The Post.
The lawsuit states that Khatilovm downloaded more files on January 6, the same day Tesla confronted him. The firm said the scripts he downloaded “had nothing to do with his responsibilities.” It called his claims of ignorance “outright lies.”
“Even worse, it became apparent that Defendant had brazenly attempted to destroy the evidence by hurriedly deleting the Dropbox client and other files during the beginning of the interview when investigators were attempting to remotely access his computer,” Tesla said in the suit.
Khatilovm says Tesla asked him to delete the files from his Dropbox. He also uninstalled the storage software from his computer, which nobody told him he wasn’t supposed to have. The former employee didn’t even know about the lawsuit until the Post informed him.
Tesla said the data could expose “which systems Tesla believes are important and valuable to automate and how to automate them – providing a roadmap to copy Tesla’s innovation.”
Khatilov denies all the allegations. “I’ve been working for, like, 20 years in this industry, and I know what sensitive documents are about, and I never, ever tried to access any of those, or steal it,” he said.
In 2018, Tesla filed a lawsuit against former Gigafactory process technician Martin Tripp, who admitted to passing confidential data to a reporter. The case was settled in December. It also sued Guangzhi Cao in 2019 for storing Autopilot source code on his iCloud.