Former Apple employee arrested, charged with theft of trade secrets

Former Apple employee arrested, charged with theft of trade secrets
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A former Apple employee was arrested at the airport last week as he allegedly sought to board a flight to China with secret plans for the company's self-driving cars.

The former employee, Xiaolang Zhang, has been charged with theft of trade secrets, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in San Jose this week.

An Apple spokesman said in a statement to Bloomberg that the company "takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously."

"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," the spokesman, Tom Neumayr, said.

Zhang had been hired by Apple in 2015 to work on the tech giant's autonomous vehicles project. He took paternity leave throughout April, during which he traveled to China. When he returned at the end of the month, he told his supervisor at Apple that he was resigning so he could move back to China to be with his mother, who was in poor health, according to the complaint.

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He told his supervisor that he planned to go to work for XMotors, a Chinese autonomous and electric vehicle company.

Zhang was ordered to turn in his Apple-owned devices — two iPhones and a MacBook — and was escorted from the campus, the criminal complaint says.

Apple soon began reviewing Zhang's network activity and found that he had downloaded "copious pages" of company trade secrets and intellectual property, according to the complaint.

Surveillance footage and a review of Zhang's badge-swipe access also shows that the former employee entered Apple's autonomous vehicle labs the night of April 28 — while he was still on paternity leave — and left less than an hour later with a computer keyboard, some cables and a large box, the filing says.

Zhang was interviewed on May 2 by Apple's security attorney. During that meeting, he admitted to seeking a job with XMotors while he was still working with Apple. He initially denied coming onto the company's campus on April 28, but later walked back that claim after he was confronted by Apple security personnel, the filings says. 

But he also said that he had downloaded the data, because he had "an interest in platforms and wanted to study the data on his own."

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. 

Apple told the FBI about the data taken by Zhang, and in a June 27 interview with federal investigators, the former employee admitted to everything that he had told Apple. 

The FBI learned on July 7 that Zhang booked a last-minute fly from San Jose, Calif., to Beijing, with a final destination in Hangzhou. He was arrested as he passed through an airport security checkpoint, the criminal complaint says.