Secret Apple plans 'stolen': ex-employee arrested at airport

Former Apple employee faces up to 10 years in prison, $250K fine for stealing Project Titan trade secrets

An ex-Apple engineer has been charged with stealing secret blueprints for the tech giant's automated vehicle project before trying to flee the U.S. for China. Zhang worked with Apple since he was hired on with the company back in 2015, and, since then, has been working with Project Titan.

XMotors has always strictly abided by the laws of China and the USA and takes protection of intellectual property rights seriously, Isabel Jiang, an XMotors spokeswoman, said in a statement. While he was arrested before boarding a plane, the story has no mention of whether the reams of data stolen by Mr. Zhang were sent via the internet. He was subsequently fired, she said.

Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski found himself in a similar position in 2017. Due to this, Zhang had access to databases containing trade secrets and sensitive intellectual property. The crackdown is aimed at China's investment in new-energy vehicles, robotics and aerospace, interests the Trump administration has viewed as a threat to economic and national security, according to people familiar with the plans. Moreover, it also provides a rare glimpse into Apple's self-driving auto project.

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He later returned a Linux server and circuit boards that he had taken from the lab, as well as his wife's laptop, though he denied that he had forwarded any information to the device.

For about two years, Xiaolang Zhang was privy to information to which many in the tech world can only dream of having access: the inner workings of Apple's secretive autonomous vehicle research. The self-driving space is exceptionally competitive, with dozens of companies across the world trying to take the lead in the burgeoning field.

How far has Apple Inc.

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Finally, technical details form the complaint document suggest that Apple is working on "Sensor Fusion", a technology that allows a system to create accurate location mapping and situational awareness via combining data from different sensors. Only about 5,000 out of Apple's 135,000 full-time employees are privy to details about the effort. Fewer people, about 2,700 "core employees", have access to the project's databases.

Following a brief investigation, Apple security determined Zhang had entered the building on April 28th, before handing in his resignation, and left with a box of hardware. The FBI described the information he stole as "largely technical in nature, including engineering schematics, technical reference manuals, and technical reports". "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", a company spokesperson told Bloomberg.

A lawyer provisionally appointed to represent Zhang did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

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