Published: Thu, July 12, 2018
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Former Apple Engineer Charged With Stealing Self-driving Car Technology

Former Apple Engineer Charged With Stealing Self-driving Car Technology

United States authorities charged a former Apple Inc employee with stealing trade secrets on Monday, accusing him of downloading a blueprint related to a self-driving vehicle to a personal laptop before trying to flee the country for China, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court. Before he could do so, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents intercepted Zhang at the San Jose airport.

He told his supervisor that he planned to go to work for XMotors, a Chinese autonomous and electric vehicle company. XMotors added it was informed of the case late last month and was working with local authorities on the probe.

The FBI has charged Xiaolang Zhang, the former Apple engineer, with intellectual property theft from the company, according to a criminal complaint filed on Monday.

Aside from making general comments about its interest in developing self-driving technology, Apple hasn't openly discussed its research, leaving many to wonder what exactly the company is working on. One former Apple employee is now in hot water over some of that content, especially in light of allegedly not only bringing it out of Apple's walls, but handing it over to a potentially competing company.

Of course, not all of those 5,000 people are necessarily working on the project full time.

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

The project that was considered a "closely-guarded secret", according to the complaint.

In a statement to the news organization, Apple said it takes "confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously". But Apple became suspicious when his level of network activity "increased exponentially" before his resignation, and officials say he ultimately admitted downloading self-driving auto technology files to his wife's laptop. Zhang took paternity leave in April 2018, following the birth of his child, during which he traveled to China.

In April, he left on paternity leave and visited China to be with his family. Investigators found that Zhang's network activity increased "exponentially" in the days leading up to April 30, shortly before he resigned.

Documents allegedly downloaded by Zhang included some on topics such as "prototypes".

Zhang joined Apple in 2015, to work on the autonomous vehicle project as a hardware engineer.

Armed with that evidence, Apple called Zhang in for a second interview on May 2.

He initially denied going to Apple's labs to take anything. Zhang explained he had taken the hardware because he thought it would be useful to him on another project.

Authorities say Zhang also allowed his wife's laptop to be examined and that an examination showed about 60 percent of the data was "highly problematic", according to the complaint. A complete evaluation of the files is ongoing. It will also being integrated into the Messages app, with support for Animoji.Here: Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering, speaks about group FaceTime. They then arrested him at the security check point at the airport. The flight was scheduled to depart that same day. He surrendered at the airport without incident. Zhang's arraignment is set for July 27 and he has not yet entered a plea.

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