Ex-Apple Engineer Flees to China After Allegedly Stealing Autonomous Car Tech Data
The U.S. Department of Justice has charged a former Apple software engineer for allegedly stealing or attempting to steal technology for at least four months before handing in his resignation at the company. The indictment alleges that Weibao Wang, 35, relayed Apple’s information to an unknown Chinese company that was working to develop self-driving cars.
Wang started working for Apple’s annotation team in 2016 and was given “broad access” to company databases that only 2,700 of Apple’s 135,000 employees had access to, according to the indictment. He worked for the company for one year before handing in his resignation notice in April 2018 but during his exit interview, Wang did not inform his supervisor of his plans moving forward.
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But an investigation later found that in late November 2017, more than four months before he handed in his notice, Wang signed an acceptance letter for a full-time staff engineer position at a Chinese-based company. One month after Wang had left Apple, company representatives found that Wang had accessed databases containing sensitive and confidential information relating to its autonomous systems’ software in the months preceding his departure from the company, the indictment says.
A search of Wang’s Mountain View, California home uncovered “several personal devices containing large quantities of data taken from Apple prior to his departure,” the indictment says, adding that his “personal desktop computer and personal external hard drive each contained various confidential, proprietary materials from the Project.”
Read the Indictment Here:
When authorities searched Wang’s home, he reportedly assured them that he had no plans to leave the country, but was found to have purchased a one-way plane ticket to Guangzhou, China from San Francisco International Airport later that day. The flight departed at approximately 11:55 p.m. that night, according to the indictment.
Wang is the third former Apple employee facing charges for allegedly stealing autonomous trade data and supplying it to China and comes after Xiaolang Zhang eventually pleaded guilty last year as part of a plea agreement to stealing trade secrets from Apple’s car division. Jizhong Chen, another former employee who worked as a hardware developer engineer on Apple’s autonomous vehicles project in 2018, is now facing federal charges for allegedly stealing sensitive information and providing it to China in 2019. Chen previously pleaded not guilty.
Wang is charged with six separate counts for his alleged role in stealing or attempting to steal Apple’s data including the entire autonomy source code, tracking for an autonomous system, behavior planning for autonomous systems, hardware descriptions, architecture design for autonomous systems, and the motion planner for an autonomous system. If extradited from China and convicted, Wang faces ten years in prison for each count.
Apple did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
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