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FBI for the Apple guy: Bloke accused of stealing robo-car tech

Engineer facing trade secrets theft rap for allegedly trying to defect with self-driving designs

An ex-Apple engineer has been hit with trade secret theft charges after allegedly pinching copies and samples of Cupertino's autonomous car technology.

A US federal district court in northern California will hear the case (PDF) of Xiaolang Zhang, a techie who in 2015 was hired to work on the Cupertino music seller's ultra-secretive self-driving car project. He designed and tested circuit boards before leaving in April of this year to join an Alibaba and Foxconn-supported Chinese startup called Xiaopeng Motors.

According to American prosecutors, Zhang took two circuit boards and a server as well as copies of files and information from two databases containing the blueprints of Apple's worst kept secret since the iPhone, with the intent of moving it with him to China.

The theft was said to have taken place between April 28 and April 30, the day Zhang announced his resignation from Apple. Prosecutors believe that during that stretch, Zhang pinched both the hardware and data from Cupertino headquarters with the aim of taking the information to his new employer.

Apparently, Zhang was less than discrete in his efforts, making it fairly easy for Apple security to catch him.

"Apple's database security team found that in the days just prior to April 30, 2018, Zhang's Apple network activity increased exponentially compared to the prior two years of his employment," the criminal complaint stated.

"The majority of his activity consisted of both bulk searches and targeted downloading copious pages of information from the confidential database applications."

According to the South China Morning Post, Zhang was collared by cops earlier this week when he attempted to fly out of San Jose Airport in Silicon Valley. Xiaopeng Motors, and its backers, are washing their hands of the matter, denying all knowledge of Zhang's plans. ®

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