Former Apple Employee Charged With Theft of Apple Car Secrets to Give to China

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A former Apple employee has been charged with stealing trade secrets from the company. CNBC today reported that former Apple employee Weibao Wang was officially charged with the theft of trade secrets for stealing information related to the Apple Car and giving it to China.

The indictment [PDF] from the United States Department of Justice, charges Wang with six counts of trade secret theft for secretly accessing Apple Car data from 2016 to 2018.

Wang held a position on Apple’s Annotation Team during his time at the Cupertino firm, where he worked on algorithms to accelerate the process of annotating real-world objects. Wang’s position gave him “broad access” to restricted databases that held project information. Just a few thousand of Apple’s more than 135,000+ full-time employees had access to the information.

Wang signed confidentiality and Intellectual Property Agreements to gain access to the material. He also attended training that covered the possible consequences he could face for stealing company data.

According to court documents, Wang downloaded Apple’s “entire autonomy source code” in 2016. Following that, he stole additional information about autonomous systems and hardware shortly before his resignation in 2018.

Wang submitted his resignation without informing Apple that he had accepted a position with a US subsidiary of a Chinese firm developing autonomous driving technology.

In May 2018, an Apple review of data access logs discovered that Wang had accessed sensitive information shortly before his departure. The Department of Justice soon became involved and searched Wang’s residence in June of that same year, discovering “large quantities of stolen, confidential, and proprietary data.”

At that point, Wang high-tailed it to China, purchasing a one-way plane ticket from San Francisco, California to Guangzhou.

The extent of the theft was soon uncovered and a warrant was issued for Wang’s arrest. If he is extradited and convicted, he could receive a prison sentence of as much as 60 years.

Wang is one of three Apple employees who have been accused of attempting to steal secret information about the Apple Car project for China. In August 2022, former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang negotiated a plea bargain, where he pled guilty to theft of trade secrets. Zhang had also attempted to flee the country but was arrested before he could leave the US.

Apple hired Zhang in December 2015 to fill a position on Apple’s autonomous vehicle team, Project Titan. Zhang designed and tested circuit boards to analyze sensor data as a member of the Compute Team, where he had access to Apple’s confidential internal databases.

On April 27, 2018, Zhang’s network activity increased considerably when compared to the previous two years. On April 30, 2018, he told Apple that he was resigning from his job at the company, as he needed to return to China to be with his ill mother.

Zhang resigned from Apple to work for Chinese startup XMotors in April 2018. Shortly after his resignation, Apple officials discovered that Zhang had stolen development data and hardware from the Apple Car project.

A third employee, Jizhong Chen, has been charged but has pled not guilty and the case is still ongoing.

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