Former Apple engineer arrested for stealing Apple trade secrets

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Zhang Xiaolang, a former Apple self-driving engineer, pleaded guilty at a hearing in federal court in San Jose, California to the 2018 charge of “stealing Apple’s self-driving business secrets before joining Xpeng Motors.” Zhang Xiaolang may face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the charge, which will be sentenced on November 14 this year. People familiar with U.S. law said that Zhang Xiaolang’s choice to plead guilty will likely be mitigated.

Xpeng Motors made an official response to this, saying: “We learned from the media today about the latest developments in the case of former Apple employee Zhang Xiaolang suspected of stealing Apple’s trade secrets. It has been more than four years since the case, and Xpeng Motors does not know the specifics of the case. We have not participated in the follow-up investigation of the case by the U.S. judiciary. We have no related disputes with Apple, nor any connection with the case. Xiaopeng Motors strictly abides by relevant laws and attaches great importance to intellectual property protection. China’s leading autonomous driving company will continue to adhere to the full-stack self-developed route. Thank you for your understanding and support of the facts!”

In July 2018, Zhang Xiaolang was arrested by the FBI at San Jose International Airport in the United States. At that time, he had passed the security check and was about to take an international flight from Hainan Airlines to Hangzhou, China. Subsequently, Zhang Xiaolang was brought to criminal proceedings by the local court.

In 2009, Zhang Xiaolang, who graduated from the School of Information Science and Engineering of Southeast University, entered the University of British Columbia. In December 2015, Zhang Xiaolang joined Apple’s “Project Titan” project, as a hardware engineer responsible for designing and testing circuit boards used to analyze sensor data, and thus obtained “wide access to a secure and confidential internal database” permission.

Inside Apple, about 5,000 employees have access to data related to autonomous driving, of which 2,700 have been given access to the core database.

According to the lawsuit filed in the California court, Zhang Xiaolang proposed to Apple on April 30, 2018, that he would resign after the end of the paternity leave due to the birth of the child. Previously, Zhang Xiaolang had returned to China for a short time, and after returning to the United States, he told his supervisor that he would resign and return to China to take care of his sick mother. However, at the work meeting after returning to Apple after taking paternity leave, Zhang Xiaolang also claimed that he “plans to work at Xiaopeng Motors”.

At that time, Xpeng Motors had an office in California, and its first model, the G3, had not yet been launched.

Due to the contradictory expressions of the reasons for Zhang Xiaolang’s resignation, this situation was regarded as an “abnormal situation” and reported to the product safety department. In the subsequent internal investigation, Apple found that Zhang Xiaolang’s “network activity increased exponentially compared to the previous two years” before leaving, and determined that Zhang Xiaolang had downloaded from various databases, including Apple’s trade secrets and content protected by intellectual property rights. The latter was described by the court as being technically related to power requirements, low voltage requirements, battery systems and conventional system suspension installations.

According to Apple’s surveillance video, Zhang Xiaolang took “keyboards, cables and a large box” from the Autopilot Lab before taking paternity leave on April 28, 2018. The “big box” was found by the court to contain two circuit boards and a server. Zhang Xiaolang admitted on May 2 of that year that he hoped that the above materials would be helpful to another project he had tried to join.

Zhang Xiaolang did not deny that he obtained data from the laboratory and deleted the operation records, and admitted that he transferred the data to his wife’s computer by Airdrop. The data included a 25-page design drawing of the circuit board of the self-driving car. . Apple’s product security department checked the relevant computers after obtaining Zhang Xiaolang’s consent, and found a folder with 40GB of data, and determined that 60% of the data was related to engineering schematics, technical reference manuals and technical reports. Sensitive content.

During the investigation, the FBI found that Zhang Xiaolang had purchased a ticket to Hangzhou, China at the “last minute” on July 7, and arrested him before boarding the plane.

Xiaopeng Motors, which was affected by the incident, issued a statement on July 11, saying: “We are concerned about the media report on July 11 that Zhang Xiaolang, a former employee of Apple, was arrested and indicted by the FBI on suspicion of stealing trade secrets. News. Xiaopeng Motors strictly abides by the laws of China and the United States, attaches great importance to the protection of intellectual property rights, and always regards compliance as the basic criterion for all employees. After Zhang Xiaolang left Apple, he joined Xiaopeng Motors in early May and signed an intellectual property agreement on the same day. There is no record showing that he reported any sensitive and illegal situations to Xiaopeng Motors. On June 27, we learned that the relevant local authorities in the United States were investigating Zhang Xiaolang personally, and sealed up Zhang Xiaolang’s computer and office supplies in accordance with regulations. We will continue to actively cooperate with the relevant investigations on this matter and follow the handling measures of the relevant local authorities. Before the incident, Xiaopeng Motors did not know about the matter. After the relevant US authorities launched an investigation, Xiaopeng Motors immediately cooperated and Carry out an internal investigation. Xiaopeng Motors will maintain its attention to this matter and work hard to cooperate with it. Thank you for your attention and understanding.”

He Xiaopeng, the founder of Xiaopeng Motors, also said when reposting the above statement in the circle of friends: “We really don’t know any information. This is a personal investigation. Thank you for your attention and understanding.”

Six days later, Zhang Xiaolang’s lawyer, Daniel Olmos, said after the hearing that his client had been granted bail by the magistrate at $300,000. But Zhang Xiaolang refused to plead guilty in federal court in San Jose, California.

In the following four years, there was no further progress in the Zhang Xiaolang case, until Zhang Xiaolang chose to plead guilty a few days ago.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) in the United States was signed by then-President Obama on May 11, 2016. The FBI is responsible for investigating and prosecuting cases of theft of trade secrets reported by related companies. The act also allows U.S. companies to file civil lawsuits against organizations and individuals for leaks.

This isn’t the only time Xpeng Motors has been involved in an autopilot theft. In April 2021, a lawyer for Cao Guangzhi, the former head of Xpeng Motors’ perception, issued a statement saying that it had reached a settlement with Tesla. The latter sued Cao Guangzhi in 2019 for allegedly stealing Autopilot-related trade secrets and providing them to Xiaopeng Motors, saying that Cao Guangzhi copied as many as hundreds of thousands of lines of source code related to design hardware, autonomous driving, and neural networks, and passed the iCloud account. upload. After accepting the offer from Xiaopeng Motors, Cao Guangwei pointed out that he deleted 120,000 files on his work computer and disconnected his iCloud account, and then “repeatedly logged in to Tesla’s safety network” to clearly browse before leaving. device history. After joining Xpeng Motors, Cao Guangzhi also accessed source code files through multiple devices. He Xiaopeng and Musk also shouted in the air on Twitter and Weibo respectively, and fought a war of words about the “stealing of secrets” caused by Cao Guangzhi for a period of time.

Source: Jinan Times

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