An Apple employee was recently indicted for allegedly transferring trade secrets about self-driving car technology to a Chinese company. This marks the third such incident.
The cases seem quite similar: Chinese companies hire the workers, who then get caught attempting to bring Apple’s proprietary information with them when they leave the United States.
Chinese companies want Apple car tech
Although Apple has yet to formally announce that it’s working on a self-driving car, the effort — known internally as Project Titan — is an open secret. Details on the company’s efforts to make an autonomous vehicle started leaking out years ago.
While Apple’s ultimate goal seems to have shifted over time, the company made enough progress that people keep trying to steal its trade secrets. The most recent example came to light Tuesday, when the Justice Department discussed the work of a “disruptive technology strike force.” Launched in February, the team aims to stop foreign companies from stealing U.S. companies’ trade secrets.
“We stand vigilant in enforcing U.S. laws to stop the flow of sensitive technologies to our foreign adversaries,” said Matt Olsen, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, during a press conference. “We are committed to doing all we can to prevent these advanced tools from falling into the hands of foreign adversaries.”
Apple employee allegedly steals self-driving car data
One of the cases detailed by the DOJ follows a familiar pattern. Weibao Wang, 35, worked on the Apple car project starting in 2016. A Chinese company hired him in 2017, but Wang didn’t inform Apple of his new job for four months.
After Wang quit, Apple allegedly discovered the data theft, according to Reuters:
After his last day at Apple, the company discovered that he had accessed large amounts of proprietary data in the days before his departure, the Justice Department said. Federal agents searched his home in June 2018 and found “large quantities” of data from Apple, it added. Shortly after the search, he boarded a plane to China, the department said.
Third time is a charm
That description should sound familiar, because Xiaolang Zhang was arrested for allegedly doing almost exactly the same thing in 2018. The main difference in this story is that authorities arrested Zhang at the airport.
A few months later, the FBI arrested Jizhong Chen after he allegedly gathered a large amount of Apple’s proprietary information and planned to take it to a Chinese electric car manufacturer.