Federal prosecutors have charged a former Apple employee with stealing trade secrets associated with the company’s self-driving vehicle technology. Xiaolang Zhang stole the information on the same day he handed in his resignation from Apple, an FBI report alleges. Zhang planned to sell to a Chinese company working in the same field.
Zhang, an Apple staffer since 2015, worked on its top-secret Compute Team, which has been the basis for years of speculation as to its goal – from building autonomous cars to developing software.
Problems arose when Zhang took paternal leave this April in China. Having announced he would leave Apple to join XMotors, a Guangzhou-headquartered firm also present in Mountain View, California, a concerned supervisor contacted Apple’s New Product Security Division, who escorted Zhang off its campus.
Apple then discovered CCTV footage of Zhang removing information from the campus during what was supposed to be his paternity leave. He was officially terminated on May 5 but still traveled, last-minute, to Beijing on June 7. Zhang was arrested by FBI officers at San Jose International Airport.
XMotors has since told Reuters there is “no indication” Zhang passed on Apple’s secrets. It has fired Zhang, and is cooperating with law enforcement. It is the latest in a long line of trade secret lawsuits in the self-drive industry, as companies struggle to keep a lid on highly sensitive information that may be worth billions of dollars.