Former Apple employee Xiaolang Zhang pleads guilty

An aerial view of Apple Park is seen in Cupertino, California, United States on October 28, 2021.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Xiaolang Zhang, a former Apple employee who was accused of stealing laptop information with commerce secrets and techniques about Apple’s secretive automotive division, pleaded guilty in federal court docket in San Jose on Monday.

Zhang’s plea settlement with the U.S. authorities is beneath seal, in accordance with court docket filings on Monday. Zhang faces as a lot as 10 years in jail and a $250,000 nice after pleading guilty to a felony cost of theft of commerce secrets and techniques. Sentencing is scheduled for November.

Zhang was accused of downloading inner Apple information in regards to the firm’s automotive venture — particularly, a 25-page doc together with engineering schematics of a circuit board for an autonomous automobile. Zhang was additionally accused of taking reference manuals and PDFs describing Apple’s prototypes and prototype necessities.

Zhang was arrested by federal brokers in July 2018 on the San Jose airport, the place he deliberate to fly to China. He had beforehand labored for Apple since 2015, most just lately as a {hardware} engineer on Apple’s autonomous automobile staff, in accordance with charging paperwork from the FBI and U.S. legal professional’s workplace.

The expenses gave a peek right into a secretive aspect of Apple that the corporate even years later nonetheless does not typically acknowledge: its division growing autonomous electrical automobiles.

In the 2018 charging paperwork, an FBI agent stated that that firm had about 5,000 “disclosed” workers, which implies that they knew in regards to the venture, and a couple of,700 “core employees” with entry to venture supplies and databases.

Apple makes use of inner software program to trace which workers are disclosed on which tasks, and are required to attend in-person secrecy coaching, in accordance with the criticism. Zhang labored on the autonomous automotive venture’s Compute Team, which designed and examined circuit boards for sensors.

Schematics for circuit designs are thought of among the many Most worthy commerce secrets and techniques within the electronics trade.

Apple first suspected Zhang of stealing commerce secrets and techniques after he took paternity go away and traveled to China. When he got here again to the corporate, he turned in his resignation, saying that he wished to maneuver again to China and maintain his mom, in accordance with the 2018 criticism.

He instructed Apple that he deliberate to work for Xmotors, a number one Chinese electrical automobile firm, and his entry to Apple’s community was minimize.

An Apple investigation discovered that Zhang downloaded paperwork and knowledge from firm databases, in accordance with the criticism. Apple closed-circuit cameras even captured Zhang coming into the labs and eradicating {hardware}, which later was recognized as circuit boards and a Linux server, the criticism stated.

Another former Apple employee, Jizhong Chen, can be going through expenses associated to allegedly stealing commerce secrets and techniques from Apple’s electrical automotive division in early 2019. In that case, Chen, a U.S. citizen, additionally deliberate to journey to China. Chen has not pleaded guilty and is represented by the identical lawyer as Zhang. A trial date has not been set.

A lawyer for Zhang did not reply to a request for remark. Apple representatives did not reply to requests for remark.

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