Missy Cummings is working hard this weekend to erase history after more than 35,000 people signed a petition to review her appointment to NHTSA for bias and conflict of interest. I’ll have much more to say on this later, but for now I just wanted to post the petition so that it’s still on the internet and everyone can see what it says. Since Missy Cummings also deleted her Twitter account, it’s clear that she wants to erase all history of her involvement with TSLAQ, the online hate group that has harassed and terrorized so many Tesla customers, including me.
On Saturday, lawyers for Missy Cummings contacted change.org and demanded they remove the petition due to “defamation”:
We then uploaded a draft of the petition that we had saved to PasteBin, but it looks like they got PasteBin to remove it too:
So now we’ll post the petition here, and they can contact us directly to express their concerns. Let me know what you guys think in the comments: Did we cross the line asking for impartial assessments from our government? Or is Missy Cummings trying to silence the voice of 35,000 people who spoke up against her appointment for clear bias and conflict of interest?
Review Appointment of Missy Cummings to NHTSA for Conflict of Interest and Bias
To President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, NHTSA, and the Office of Personnel Management,
As citizens advocating for progress in vehicle automation, we petition our government for a redress of grievances raised by the appointment of Missy Cummings as a “Senior Advisor for Safety” at NHTSA. We humbly request that this appointment by reviewed for violation of agency guidelines and ethical principles concerning conflict of interest and bias. We urge NHTSA to terminate this assignment, or take appropriate measures to ensure that the safety of the public and economic interests of the United States are not compromised for the benefit of private interests.
We’re concerned by conflicts presented by Dr. Cummings role on the Board of Directors of Veoneer (a Swedish LIDAR company), her membership and association with “TSLAQ” (an online anti-Tesla short-selling & hate group), and public statements that suggest a bias towards and singling out of Tesla over technologies that have now become standard across the auto industry. At times, Dr. Cummings has made public statements that seem to reflect an emotional bias against Tesla, even insinuating that she would have to be “held back” from punching Tesla CEO Elon Musk if she met him. We expect impartiality from our regulators, or at least the appearance of it — not this. If Dr. Cummings needs to punch someone at Tesla, we just ask that the millions of Americans depending on vehicle automation not become collateral damage.
Dr. Cummings is a member of the Board of Directors for Veoneer, a Swedish LIDAR company. According to publicly available SEC disclosures, Dr. Cummings has received restricted stock units in Veoneer valued around $400,000 at today’s market prices. For over 13 years, the industry has tried unsuccessfully to bring LIDAR powered self-driving cars to market, but have failed to do so beyond a few small test areas. Because of the cost, power consumption, and aerodynamic drag associated with these sensors they have not become common in vehicles sold today, and thus have been unable to start preventing crashes happening every day.
By contrast, Tesla Autopilot offers a completely disruptive approach to the failed spatial techniques of decades ago. By just cameras, computer vision, and deep learning for perception, Autopilot eliminates the need for sensors like radar and LIDAR completely. This means the technology can be built in to every new car today, not years from now, resulting in an immediate reduction in crashes and fatalities. Indeed, the Autopilot features, active safety systems that protect you even when driving manually, and insurance discounts for good drivers already leverage this technology to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities on American roads every single day.
NHTSA must consider the interests of the public and need for public safety against the financial interests of LIDAR companies and their executives. How can the public be assured that Dr. Cummings will prioritize deploying life saving technology quickly when doing so would make the Veoneer shares she received as compensation worthless? At the very least, Dr. Cummings must be required to divest completely from Veoneer and other automotive investments, and to resign from the Veoneer board. However even after fully divesting, it may still be difficult to make a public safety decision that adversely impacts friends and former colleagues in the auto industry.
Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 203 prohibits receiving compensation from outside sources for matters affecting the government. The Office of Personnel Management states that “the federal agency should be particularly alert to any possible conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof, which many be inherent in the assignment of one of its employees”. At the very least, there is an appearance of conflict of interest in this appointment. An assignment may be terminated at any time at the option of NHTSA with 30 days notice when the appearance of such conflict of interest arises. Strict adherence to these ethical principles ensures the public can trust our regulators to act in good faith in service of the public good, rather than taking actions that benefit a few individuals at the expense of broader public safety.
Dr. Cummings is an avid member and supporter of TSLAQ, an anti-Tesla hate and cyber harassment group created by short sellers who seek to profit by causing a decline in Tesla’s share price. Through her Twitter account @missy_cummings, she often interacts with and supports TSLAQ members publicly. In addition, Dr. Cummings subscribes to the “TSLAQ Block List” a list of over 13,000 Twitter accounts that have ever had anything positive to say about Tesla. Through this blocklist, TSLAQ leaders can control what information Dr. Cummings sees when she checks the news each day ensuring that negative and false propaganda reaches her quickly while any positive comments from real Tesla Autopilot users are completely hidden. Regulators should be open to all members of the public, not blocking out the voices of those they seek to regulate based on the decisions of a short selling group. Online conspiracy theories should not influence critical national policy, and members of an anti-Tesla group should not influence how NHTSA regulates Tesla Autopilot and competing systems.
Over the years, Tesla owners have faced constant harassment from TSLAQ members as they grew increasingly agitated over their billions of dollars in stock market losses. TSLAQ members and leaders have been involved in blackmail, defamatory allegations, false police reports, cyberstalking, threats, filing fake NHTSA motor vehicle defect petitions under the names of Tesla customers, and other criminal actions in service of their massive coordinated “short & distort” campaign. I myself have been targeted for over the past 1000 days by a deranged Cyberstalker named Aaron Greenspan, a TSLAQ leader who believes he invented Facebook. He has threatened my family, falsely reported me for child pornography to the police, and tried to cause as much financial damage as possible to pressure me into silence about his criminal activity. Anyone who associates with these people, who followed and stood idly by as they saw the harassment of Tesla customers, should be disqualified from working with the federal government completely.
The appointment of a TSLAQ member to NHTSA has at least created the appearance of a blatant conflict of interest, and threatens to undermine public confidence in federal regulators. To protect the integrity of the process, Dr. Cummings assignment should be terminated by NHTSA, or she should recuse herself from participating in any matters or investigations concerning Tesla given her membership in anti-Tesla groups that suggest an inability to provide an impartial assessment.
Finally, and perhaps most concerning, are Dr. Cummings public statements regarding Tesla. Advanced Driver Assistance has become a standard offering across most of the auto industry, with European regulators even moving to require it on all new vehicles. Despite this Dr. Cummings frequently singles out Tesla and their Autopilot system while ignoring much less advanced systems available from virtually every other auto OEM. In a Reuters article announcing her appointment, the reporter noted that “Cummings has previously expressed concerns about Tesla’s Autopilot feature”. The article mentioned nothing about Nissan ProPilot, Ford CoPilot, Cadillac SuperCruise, Comma OpenPilot, or the many other systems available that offer a less advanced version of the same functionality Autopilot provides. Federal regulation must be applied uniformly, not designed to single out one company. The fact that Reuters mentioned Tesla and none of these other systems is further evidence that the public recognizes Dr. Cummings is uniquely focused on Autopilot in particular rather than ADAS systems more generally.
Dr. Cummings public comments reflect an attitude towards Tesla that is misinformed and influenced by propaganda rather than fact based. For example, after a drunk driving accident that was widely misreported in the media as a “driverless Tesla crash”, Dr. Cummings cited the incident as evidence of the dangers of Autopilot. However, even a novice Autopilot user with only a rudimentary understanding of the system could tell that it would have been virtually impossible to activate Autopilot on the street in question due to the lack of lane lines. As a purported Autopilot expert, one would have expected Dr. Cummings to figure this out, or at least wait for official word from the NTSB, which eventually confirmed Autopilot could not have been activated at that location. Instead, Dr. Cummings cited the incident in one of her papers, helping to spread misinformation about Autopilot in complete defiance of the facts of the case. It is hard to believe that Dr. Cummings will be able to take an impartial and fact based approach to her work with NHTSA when her work in academia has been so often misinformed in ways that are obvious to Autopilot users, but may not be to others.
In another case she told another TSLAQ member, Russ Mitchell, that she believed Tesla had turned of Automatic Emergency Braking on their cars to reduce unexpected braking. This speculation had absolutely no basis in fact and reflects a desire to vilify Tesla with baseless speculation in stark contrast to impartial and fact based analysis.
In another tweet, Dr. Cummings expressed her disdain for “overly privileged, narcissistic and insecure white men who need to assuage themselves that they are part of some greater good and here to save us from the folly that they created. The only killer robot out there is @elonmusk’s Tesla”. Any prejudice that Dr. Cummings has against Tesla’s CEO on the basis of his gender, race, or wealth has no place in public policy that is hugely consequential on the safety of the entire American public. To call Teslas “killer robots” is dramatic to say the least. Over the years the advanced vehicle automation features on my Tesla have helped protect myself and my loved ones from danger many times, and it is incredibly disappointing to see regulators take such a reductive and demonizing stance on what is clearly a more important safety enhancement than the seat belt and the air bag combined.
In a separate tweet, a user asked Dr. Cummings: “Why not just keep it simple: Missy vs Elon?”. Dr. Cummings posted a reply saying “@GaryMarcus would be there to hold me back”, with an animated GIF showing a woman punching a man in the face so hard that he was knocked out of his chair displayed underneath the tweet. Someone showing this kind of anger towards Tesla’s CEO, to the point where she admits someone would need to “hold her back” to stop her from punching Mr. Musk in the face, is not fit to advise of regulating the company. Regulations should be fact based and impartial, designed primarily to enhance public safety. They should not be motivated by a desire to punch Elon Musk in the face, with millions of Autopilot users across America as collateral damage to this bizarre personal vendetta.
Perhaps the most concerning tweet was one when Dr. Cummings said that he believed Autopilot was “unreliable and unsafe @NHTSARecalls should require Tesla to turn it off”. Senselessly destroying a life saving technology like Autopilot not only infringes on our rights as drivers using the technology safely, it jeopardizes public safety and American economic competitiveness long term. Even a slight delay or bureaucratic setback could cost thousands of American lives, and millions around the world. Taking Autopilot away from millions of users who depend on it amounts to a death sentence for many Tesla users who depend on it. Taking this action would result in more crashes, injuries, and senseless deaths, and it’s shocking to see our regulators advocating such brazen and careless action by their agency. Beyond the public safety implications, banning Autopilot out of personal bias and animosity would hand a major economic advantage to China at a critical time, surrendering our future to an economic rival. If America destroys its own homegrown made in America technology companies in favor of companies in Sweden and China, our influence over how this technology rolls out will be greatly diminished. While Tesla is willing to work closely with our regulators and listen to their recommendations, that kind of relationship may not exist if the leading autonomous technology provider in the United States is Chinese. If the AI advancements that will power the future aren’t allowed to happen here, America’s place in the world will be significantly diminished as the world becomes increasingly dependent on Chinese technology to power the global economy.
As Autopilot users for progress on vehicle automation, we support sensible regulation applied fairly and uniformly across the industry to help keep the public safe. The appointment of Missy Cummings has severely shaken our trust in the federal government’s ability to regulate markets fairly, with the safety of the public above all other concerns & interests. To restore trust, we urge NHTSA to reconsider the appointment and terminate it as appropriate. If not, Dr. Cummings must recuse herself from all matters concerning Tesla as it is clear she is not capable of impartiality and fact based discussion of these critical issues.
Thank you for taking the time to read and understand our concerns. We are voicing them not just for the benefit of Autopilot users, but for all of mankind and the millions of people around the world who will benefit from the deployment of this technology without needless delay.
Autopilot Users for Progress
P.S. To Dr. Cummings, I am sorry to have to write this. I mean no disrespect, but just as you are passionate about advocating your views on vehicle automation so am I. The only difference is that I use this software every day and have different opinions than you do. If you do remain in this role at NHTSA I beg you to please consider your duty to serve the public and protect the safety of all Americans, including all the Tesla owners you’ve blocked. Autopilot is a life saving technology and you cannot put us at risk by taking it away from us. If nothing else comes of this petition, we hope you can prove all the people who don’t believe you can be impartial on the issue wrong. We are all Americans, and all in this together.