Former Apple Engineer Faces Jail Over Theft of Self-Driving Car Secrets

Ex-Apple employee charged with stealing self-driving car secrets		
		
	Matthew Panzarino

       @	   
   	11 hours

Apple hired Zhang in December 2015 to work on software and hardware for the company's autonomous vehicle project. During that time, Zhang accessed a variety of content related to the Project Titan, including prototypes and those prototype requirements.

On July 7, authorities learned Zhang had bought "a last-minute round-trip airline ticket" for himself to Beijing, with the final destination of Hangzhou, China. In addition, surveillance cameras recorded Zhang taking hardware from Apple offices at a time when he was supposedly on paternity leave and traveling with family in China.

Zhang appeared in court Monday and was remanded to custody, according to court documents.

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Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski found himself in a similar position in 2017. While the lawsuit settled, a criminal investigation of Levandowski's alleged trade secret theft from Google remains unresolved. Operating under an emergency law, the US Treasury Department plans to increase scrutiny of Chinese investment in US industries including new-energy vehicles, robotics, and aerospace, sources tell Bloomberg.

While Apple has long kept its rumored project under wraps, the filing of a legal complaint following the fateful development has revealed a few key details about the self-driving auto program. After being confronted with this information during a second interview, Zhang admitted to stealing the information to Apple security, and also to transferring it onto his wife's computer. The supervisor felt the engineer was "being evasive" during the meeting, which led to Apple investigators searching his two company-issued phones and laptop. The self-driving space is exceptionally competitive, with dozens of companies across the world trying to take the lead in the burgeoning field. It's not clear how he planned to use these. Apple hasn't said how or if it will eventually release its technology to consumers. "Because of his role on the team, Zhang was granted broad access to secure and confidential internal databases containing trade secrets", the complaint says. He is charged with downloading engineering blueprints, technical manuals, and reports.

"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously", an Apple representative told TechCrunch. Tamara Crepet, a federal public defender provisionally appointed to represent Zhang, could not be reached for comment. That is certainly the case involving a former Apple engineer who was caught and had admitted to stealing sensitive data around a much-rumored but never confirmed Apple secret project: autonomous cars. "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".

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