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Apple engineer admits stealing trade secrets the register


A former Apple engineer who worked on Titan – the company’s “need-to-know basis” project for self-driving cars – admitted yesterday to stealing proprietary technology while working for the company.

Xiaolang Zhang accepted a plea deal and changed his plea deal to one count of trade secret theft at a recent hearing. His declaration of consent will be sealed according to the record [PDF]submitted yesterday.

Zhang, a hardware engineer on the autonomous vehicle development team, began working at Apple in late 2015 and worked in the Compute section, where he designed and tested circuit boards to analyze sensor data reported back from the car’s systems. After going on paternity leave, the complaint says he returned from a trip to China during his family leave to tell his boss that his mother was not well and that he was planning to move to China to be closer to be with her.

The filing claims he planned to work for Xiaopeng Motors, also known as “XMotors,” a smart electric vehicle company headquartered in Guangzhou, China, with North American offices in Palo Alto, California.

His manager then pushed the button, which brought in a member of Apple’s “New Product Security Division,” and a representative “joined the meeting.” After being stripped of all work equipment — two iPhones and a Mac laptop — and stripped of his network access privileges, Zhang was escorted off campus.

An internal security team, which Apple calls “New Product Security,” then apparently called in the database security team, an Apple Global Security attorney, and later the FBI.

After another interview with both the FBI and Apple, and after he turned in his wife’s laptop for forensic examination along with a Linux server and two circuit boards, the complaint said FBI agents intercepted Zhang at the San Jose International Airport after passing through security.

Before accepting the deal, the engineer originally pleaded not guilty.

According to the original complaint [PDF]The FBI found engineering schematics, technical reference manuals and technical reports identified as Apple property, including in particular a “25-page PDF document containing electrical schematics for one of the circuit boards that make up Apple’s proprietary infrastructure technology for the project.” “

The complaint, which originally sought a sealing order, revealed the efforts Apple is making to protect its autonomous car development work, including, among other things, that only 2 percent – 2,700 out of 135,000 – of Apple’s full-time employees had access to the safe Databases hosting autonomous car technology and that these DBs have their own administrators. It was also revealed that Cupertino uses an internal software tool to manage project disclosure requests and keep records of all disclosures.

Another person who worked on Titan was arrested in 2019 for the alleged photograph and steal information about the hardware. Jizhong Chen is currently out on bail and a trial date has not yet been set.

Apple reportedly brought in the former Lamborghini R&D man Luigi Taraborrelli last month on the Titan team. Apple reportedly brought together employees from its 2019 acquisition of autonomous vehicle startup into the project.

According to that California DMVApple is currently testing vehicles (understood as Lexus cars) equipped with its self-driving technology on the state’s roads, but — crucially — only has permission to do so with one driver.

Only six companies including Waymo and Baidu’s Apollo Autonomous LLC are currently testing driverless technologies.

Zhang’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 14. ® Apple engineer admits stealing trade secrets • The Register

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.