Apple Engineer Charged For Trying To Bring Driverless Car Secrets To Chinese Startup

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

Authorities reportedly filed charges Monday against a former Apple engineer for taking corporate trade secrets to a Chinese startup.

The U.S.-based tech giant is accusing Xiaolang Zhang of transferring confidential, proprietary information about autonomous vehicles to his new place of employment, XMotors, according to multiple reports. The charges were officially filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California.

Apple has always been relatively hush when it comes to its driverless car projects, rarely divulging its intentions with the technology.

CEO Tim Cook gave a glimpse in June 2017, saying his team is “focusing on autonomous systems,” implying that designing and manufacturing fully equipped vehicles is not the end goal.

“We sort of see it as the mother of all AI [artificial intelligence] projects. It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on,” Cook said in a Bloomberg interview.

Weeks later, a report from The New York Times alleged that Apple’s self-driving car project, known internally as “Titan,” was losing speed. A number of attempts to explore different areas of the production process forced the company’s arm to change course.

But with the case against Zhang, it seems that Apple is still on track to partake in the race to the first fully usable and legally operated driverless car.

Zhang, who was hired to work on both software and hardware for the special project in 2015, notified a superior in April that he planned on moving back to China in order to work for the startup. That supervisor then notified the company’s security team, which allegedly discovered that Zhang at some point downloaded “copious pages of information” from secret databases, according to BBC. Apple also accused Zhang of stealing important hardware from one of its experimental labs.

He was arrested on July 7 at the San Jose airport in California.

Zhang reportedly admitted to the crime during a June interview.

XMotors denied the accusations Wednesday that Zhang gave them sensitive information from Apple, according to Reuters. (RELATED: Google, Apple Are Teaming Up With Rental Car Companies For The Future Of Driving)

Apple did not respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment in time of publication.

Allegations of former employees taking proprietary, sensitive business information to competitors is a somewhat recurring situation across multiple industries, but especially in tech. (RELATED: Amazon Sues Former Exec Over Suspicions He Took Trade Secrets To New Startup)

A lengthy, heated legal battle between Google and Uber, for example, was finally brought to an end in February with a $245 settlement. Google’s autonomous vehicle wing accused an ex-engineer of wrongfully downloading highly important files and taking them to its counterpart in Uber, causing a whirlwind of legal proceedings.

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