Waymo isn’t the only one with a car leak problem. Although industrial espionage isn’t exactly and trade secret theft is hardly new nor uncommon, not every crime gets the limelight. But if you get caught stealing from Apple, you better be prepared to be an overnight sensation (not to mention a criminal). That is certainly the case involving a former Apple engineer who was caught and had admitted to stealing sensitive data around a much-rumored but never confirmed Apple secret project: autonomous cars.
The suspect in this case is a certain Xiaolang Zhang who started out at Apple in 2015 as a hardware engineer working on Apple’s top secret self-driving car project. Zhang was supposedly granted broad access to said data, which explains how he got his hands on those trade secrets. April this year, he took a paternity leave but informed Apple he would be going back home to China to take care of his sick mother. However, he told his supervisor a slightly different story and said he would be working for XMotors there.
Perhaps the fact that XMotors is a Chinese startup working on electric vehicles and self-driving technology raised some red flags within Apple. The company’s security team reviewed Zhang’s company iPhone and laptop and discovered massive download activities between March and April, including confidential company data. Mercury News reports that Zhang later admitted to the charges as well as other activities, like entering Apple’s software and hardware labs during his paternity leave and copying information from his work devices onto his wife’s laptop.
As interesting as the case may be, it is perhaps more interesting that it practically confirms that Apple is indeed working on autonomous car tech. Of course, that doesn’t exactly confirm what that tech involves, whether it’s simply in-vehicle systems or, like the Google-born Waymo, something more ambitious. Zhang does know but, at this point, it’s in his best interests to actually keep quiet.