Published: Thu, July 12, 2018
Industry | By Terrell Bush

Ex-Apple employee charged with stealing self-driving car trade secrets

Ex-Apple employee charged with stealing self-driving car trade secrets

When Zhang returned from paternity leave, he informed his boss that he was moving to China to work for Xmotors.

A hardware engineer for Apple's autonomous vehicle development team, Zhang was granted access to confidential company databases, according to the complaint.

The entire project's existence was a secret until late 2016, when Apple wrote a letter to USA regulators asking them not to restrict testing of autonomous vehicles.

XMotors said in a statement on Wednesday that it is "highly concerned" and that 'there is no indication that (Zhang) has ever communicated any sensitive information from Apple to XMotors'.

The supervisor thought Zhang "evasive" and brought in an Apple product security team, which had him turn in all company devices and walked him off campus, according to the complaint.

According to a court filing, Zhang worked on Apple's self-driving vehicle initiative, called "Project Titan", as a member of the Compute Team.

Zhang later admitted to taking circuit boards and a Linux server from the hardware lab, and to transferring some Apple files to his wife's computer, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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Upon his return on April 30, Zhang told his immediate superior he was resigning to move back to China to be closer to mother who was in poor health.

"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously", the California-based internet titan said in response to an AFP query.

The complaint said the former employee, Zhang Xiaolang, disclosed intentions to work for a Chinese electric vehicle start-up and booked a last-minute flight to China after downloading the plan for a circuit board for the self-driving auto.

Zhang also admitted to Air Dropping information from his iPhones to his wife's laptop. Security cameras and security badge swipe data also placed Zhang in company labs during his paternity leave. "We're working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions", a company spokesperson told Bloomberg. Zhang generated 581 rows of user activity on April 28 alone; in the previous month, authorities said, he generated 610 rows.

But he also said that he had downloaded the data, because he had "an interest in platforms and wanted to study the data on his own".

Though he initially denied taking company property, he later admitted that he took several items, including two circuit boards and a Linux server. A complete evaluation of the files is ongoing. He surrendered at the airport without incident. The formal process of reading of the criminal charging document to him is scheduled for July 27, though he is yet to enter a plea.

If found guilty, Zhang could face a penalty of $250,000 or may face 10 years of imprisonment.

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