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Ex-Apple Engineer Charged with Stealing Self-Driving Technology

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 19, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Federal agents arrested an ex-Apple engineer as he was about to board a jet because he allegedly stole self-driving technology from the company.

Xiaolang Zhang, 33, was at the international airport in San Jose, California, when authorities caught up with him. He has been charged with one count of grand theft of trade secrets and faces up to 10 years in prison.

According to court records, Zhang told his employer he was leaving to be closer to his mother who was "in poor health" in China. It didn't help after he had to post $300,000 bail and wear an ankle monitor.

Self-Driving Technology

Zhang had worked for Apple since 2015, focusing on a self-driving car project. In April this year, he told a supervisor that he was returning to China.

The supervisor reported that Zhang was "evasive during their meeting," and a security team looked into it. They found he had accessed a company database and downloaded trade secrets, including designs and specifications.

They confronted him, but he denied taking any proprietary information. He later admitted taking the data because "he wanted to study that data on his own," Courthouse News reported.

Apple learned about the theft, in part through security cameras, in late April. Authorities monitored Zhang to discover the extent of the breach, but had to arrest him in July before he left the country.

China Connection

"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," Apple said in a statement.

Before he was arrested, Zhang said he was pursuing a job with self-driving startup XMotors in China. The company said it was cooperating with authorities, and had no communications with Zhang.

Along with other information, he had taken an Apple document with schematics for a circuit board to be used in an autonomous vehicle.

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