UPDATED 20:51 EDT / MAY 16 2023


DOJ charges former Apple engineer with stealing self-driving car technology for China

The Department of Justice today charged a former Apple Inc. engineer with stealing autonomous technology and giving it to a Chinese self-driving car company.

The indictment, filed at federal court in the Northern District of California, alleges that Weibao Wang, who started working on Apple’s hardware and software for autonomous systems in 2016, had “broad access” to databases of sensitive intellectual property. It’s well-known that Apple has been working on a secretive autonomous car project that seems to have hit many bumps on the road over the years.

The project was secret, or partly secret, not just outside of Apple but inside the company. Of the 135,000 employees at the company, in 2018, only 2,700 of them had access to the databases storing information about the car project. Wang was one. He signed a confidentiality and intellectual property agreement and had “secrecy training,” but it seems he was the wrong man to hire.

When Wang said he was going to resign in 2018, little did Apple know that he had already taken a job at a subsidiary of a company in the U.S. that was headquartered in the People’s Republic of China. Prior to Wang handing in his resignation, activity logs show he accessed large amounts of sensitive project information.

The indictment doesn’t say which Chinese car company with offices in the U.S. Wang was working for, only calling it “Company One.” Before leaving the U.S., his Mountain View residence was searched by law enforcement, and indeed, a large cache of sensitive data was discovered. Wang told the agents he wasn’t going anywhere but soon bought a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Guangzhou, China.

Wang is just one of five people who have been investigated of late by the DOJ’s “Technology Strike Force” for stealing sensitive information and passing it on to “authoritarian regimes.” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said, “We will not tolerate those who would violate U.S. laws to allow authoritarian regimes and other hostile nations to use advanced technology to threaten U.S. national security and undermine democratic values around the world.”

The indictment states that there are six categories of trade secrets that Wang allegedly stole or at least attempted to steal. He now faces 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each count of theft and attempted theft.

Photo: Wesson Wang/Unsplash

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