Xiaolang Zhang had worked at Apple since December 2015. Two-and-a-half years later the hardware engineer is facing major criminal charges after admitting to stealing trade secrets and intellectual property from the company’s autonomous car division.
The story starts with Zhang announcing his resignation in late April, citing a desire to move back to China to care for his sick mother. He had also accepted a position at XPeng Motors. While largely unknown outside of China, the company has received significant financial backing from the likes of Alibaba, Foxconn and IDG Capital. It has also developed an electric SUV called the XPeng G3 that features a number of driverless technologies.
After reviewing the company-issued iPhones and MacBook that he was asked to return upon giving his notice, Apple noticed that Zhang had downloaded a huge amount of data leading up to his resignation. This raised suspicions that were confirmed after examining security footage showing Zhang leaving his lab with a large box containing circuit boards, a Linux server, cables and a keyboard.
Zhang also reportedly downloaded up to 40GB of highly confidential technical bulletins, reports and blueprints covering vehicle prototypes, battery systems and drivetrain specifications to his wife’s laptop before leaving the company.
After a closer look at said laptop, Apple described as much as 60 percent of the downloaded data as “highly problematic.” The FBI searched Zhang’s home on June 27, and then arrested him as he went through a security checkpoint at the San Jose airport on July 7. He was reportedly headed to Hangzhou, China.
The specific intel that Zhang stole is still unknown. However, if found guilty he could face up to 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine.