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Departing Apple engineer stole autonomous auto tech

12 July 2018

Fast forward a couple of years and in April of 2018, Zhang took family leave after the birth of his child, and visited China during this time. About 5,000 of Apple's 135,000 employees were allowed access to information about its self-driving auto project, but only 2,700 of them had access to the secret databases that Zhang had access to, according to the complaint.

During his resignation, he turned over two iPhones, a MacBook and complied to Apple's intellectual property policy, according to the complaint. Yet the Federal Bureau of Investigation says that "approximately 5,000 of Apple's over 135,000 full time employees" have been granted clearance to receive information about Apple's project to "develop software and hardware for use in autonomous vehicles".

According to a LinkedIn page that has since been removed, Zhang was employed as a Hardware Systems Engineer at Apple.

Zhang was hired by Apple in 2015 to help the company develop self-driving cars, and was given access to confidential internal databases. Following a trip to China in April, Zhang announced his intention to resign from Apple, move to China and begin working for Xiaopeng Motors.

Zhang Xiaolang was accused by US prosecutors of downloading files containing proprietary information as he prepared to leave the iPhone maker in April and start work for Guangzhou-based Xiaopeng Motors. according to a criminal complaint filed Monday in federal court in San Jose, California. 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. "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.

The technical detail in the complaint "would only have been possible if Apple complied" with investigators, said Bryant Walker Smith, an assistant professor of law at the University of SC who has studied issues around autonomous vehicles.

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".

A later search by Apple investigators found that 60 percent of the information on his wife's computer was "highly problematic", according to the complaint.

Effective May 5, Zhang was "voluntarily terminated", and according to the complaint, said he is employed by XMotors at its Mountain View, Calif., office. We also don't know if Apple's IP was successfully transferred to a third party by Mr. Zhang before his arrest. He surrendered at the airport without incident.

Zhang is scheduled to be arraigned July 27, according to court documents. Zhang is facing up to 10 years in prison along with a massive fine of $250,000 as he breached Apple's intellectual property agreement.

Departing Apple engineer stole autonomous auto tech