For many years, rumors have been flying around that Apple has been working on a self-driving car, or at least an electric vehicle with some autonomous functionality. Now, a third former employee has been accused of stealing some of that technology for a Chinese self-driving car company.
A federal court in the Northern District of California has unsealed charges against Weibao Wang, a former Apple software engineer. Wang started working at the company in 2016 as part of a team that developed hardware and software for autonomous systems — technology that could conceivably wind up in self-driving cars.
According to the indictment, in November 2017, Wang accepted a job with a US subsidiary of a Chinese company that was developing self-driving cars but waited more than four months to tell Apple that he was quitting. After Wang left Apple in April 2018, the company found that he “accessed large amounts of sensitive proprietary and confidential information” in the lead up to his departure, the Department of Justice said.
“Large quantities of data taken from Apple” were found during a law enforcement search of Wang’s Mountain View residence that June. Wang told agents that he wasn’t planning to travel, but he flew back to China that night, according to the indictment.
Wang has been charged with six counts of stealing or attempting to steal trade secrets. He faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a fine of $250,000 for each count. However, that depends on officials being able to extradite Wang, who remains in China, as CNBC reports.
This marks the third instance of a former Apple employee being accused of stealing autonomous trade secrets for Chinese entities. Xiaolang Zhang, who worked at Apple at the same time as Wang, pleaded guilty last year to stealing technology from Apple’s car division. Zhang was apprehended at San Jose International Airport in 2018 while trying to board a flight to China.
In 2019, another former employee was arrested before they could flee to China. Jizhong Chen allegedly stole self-driving car tech for a Chinese company. Chen pleaded not guilty and the case is proceeding in federal court.