back to article Apple autonomous car engineer pleads guilty to stealing trade secrets

An ex-Apple engineer who worked on Titan – the company's "need to know basis" self-driving car project – yesterday admitted to stealing proprietary tech while he was working for the company. Xiaolang Zhang accepted a plea deal, changing his plea to guilty to one count of theft of trade secrets at a recent hearing. His plea …

  1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    Disguised car

    In addition to road testing the technology fitted to Lexus vehicles, the prototype vehicle has been disguised for road tests...

    https://nationalmotormuseum.org.uk/vehicle-collection/mini-outspan-orange/

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Disguised car

      It's funnier if you disguise the link:

      https://www.apple.com/employees/secret-plans.htm?access-key=123456

    2. Def Silver badge

      Re: Disguised car

      Edd China (of Wheeler Dealers fame) has one of those. He shows work on it from time to time in his YouTube episodes.

    3. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

      Re: Disguised car

      I remember sitting in one of those when I was a kid and it was on tour.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Plea deals

    …are not actually justice though.

    People often plead guilty to something just to avoid (or because they can't afford) the expense of defending themselves in court and to mitigate the risk of a heavier (but presumably just) sentence should they be found guilty at trial.

    Makes the prosecutors look good, but not a fan of that system.

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Plea deals

      Same basic principle as speeding tickets. Of which I am also not a great fan.

    2. jollyboyspecial Bronze badge

      Re: Plea deals

      A lot depends on the reason the prosecutors offer the plea deal in the first place.

      A plea deal is a good thing if it's used to secure a prosecution against a bigger crook. For example a plea deal with a small time drug dealer in order to bring down their supplier would be a good thing. But a plea deal just to improve the prosecutor's success rate wouldn't.

  3. Erik Beall

    Doesn't sound like espionage

    Sounds like something several percent of engineers could almost harmlessly take home with them. Possible of course that he thought the schematics of some sensor integration board would be helpful to his next job back in his homeland, but without more of a motive, I very much doubt it. Sounds like prosecutors seeking a scalp.

    1. Falmari Silver badge

      Re: Doesn't sound like espionage

      @Erik Beall "Doesn't sound like espionage"

      Sure he was just taking the stuff below on a flight to china for a well deserved holiday. As they were looking a little jaded.

      "FBI found engineering schematics, technical reference manuals, and technical reports identified as belonging to Apple, including, specifically, a "25-page pdf document containing electrical schematics for one of the circuit boards that form Apple's proprietary infrastructure technology for the Project."

      BTW do engineers also take circuit boards home with them.

      "After another interview with both the FBI and Apple, and after handing in his wife's laptop for forensic examination, along with a Linux server and two circuit boards he'd "admitted to taking from Apple," "

    2. Mayday Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Doesn't sound like espionage

      You’ll find there’d be some serious NDAs and handling procedures around this. I’ve had jobs where I’ve allowed to take “work stuff” home, and others where I can’t. I’d presume that Apple hardware, especially when it involves a v0 product will not be allowed to leave some highly secure room(s) at Appleville.

    3. jollyboyspecial Bronze badge

      Re: Doesn't sound like espionage

      So you think that "several percent of engineers could almost harmlessly take home" a linux server?

      And what do you mean by "several percent"?

      And how do you define "almost harmlessly"?

  4. ChoHag Bronze badge

    Apple and security

    Here we see what really matters.

  5. DerekCurrie
    Big Brother

    Let justice be served. But isn't this typical of China's robbery of the world's IP?

    China: Criminal Nation has been documented to have been hacking the world for its intellectual property, among other things, since 1998 when they helped form the Red Hacker Alliance. Hacking has since been integrated into China's military. The Chinese Communist Party quite obviously demands that any company doing business in China hand over their intellectual property! They also require influence within every major Chinese company and university.

    Is Apple right to take the potential robbery of their IP seriously? Of course. Every company in the USA, if not the world, should be just as wary.

    [Withheld: Essay regarding the criminal incentive of communist nations]

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Let justice be served. But isn't this typical of China's robbery of the world's IP?

      Every nation steals from every other nation at some level or another.

    2. PhilipN Silver badge

      ex-Lamborghini R&D man

      who would not no way never have remembered a single thing he picked up at Lambo

  6. Cuddles Silver badge

    "Only"

    "the lengths to which Apple goes to protect its autonomous car dev work, including among other things, that only 2 percent – 2,700 out of 135,000 – of Apple's full-time employees had access to the secure databases hosting the autonomous car tech"

    Does this really demonstrate the lengths to which Apple goes? This is a tiny side-venture for Apple; the vast majority of their employees have no reason to even know that the car thing exists at all, and certainly you would not expect all the people working on iPhones and PCs to have access to this stuff, let alone their shop assistants. Having nearly 3000 people with full access to their top secret secure database doesn't sound like they're going to any great lengths to keep it actually secure, it sounds much more as though it's open to anyone with a tangential connection or maybe a very occasional need to look at one or two small parts of it.

    I don't even work on anything with particular security needs, but I've still had to sign NDAs to get access to engineering drawings that only two or three people in the whole company are able to see (generally for third-party stuff where they don't want proposed designs getting to their competitors rather than our own stuff). Far from going to great lengths, Apple barely seem to have considered security at all. Thousands of people have access to everything, to the point of being able to take home not just documents, but even parts and servers without anyone noticing.

  7. jollyboyspecial Bronze badge

    Anybody working in R&D will have it made very, very clear to them what they are allowed to physically remove from their place of work. That is to say absolutely nothing. And that will be contractual. Further to that contract there will no doubt be an NDA saying that they are allowed to discuss absolutely nothing of their work outside the workplace.

    Given the evidence here I can't see why the prosecutors would offer a plea deal.

    Unless of course the prosecutors or Apple themselves are worried about what may be discussed in open court.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like