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Third ex-Apple engineer charged over Apple Car technology theft

Apple's self-driving vehicle testbed

The Department of Justice has charged a third ex-engineer over the alleged theft of self-driving car tech in 2018, after the engineer tried to hand Apple's trade secrets over to a Chinese autonomous driving tech company.

Announced on Tuesday, the DoJ revealed it had filed charges at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco against Weibao Wang on April 11, 2023. Wang stands accused of the theft and the attempt at taking Apple's "entire autonomy source code," tracking systems, behavior planning systems, and system hardware descriptions.

Wang was employed by Apple for one year before he accepted a role for a U.S. subsidiary of an unnamed Chinese autonomous driving technology company. For four months before he eventually quit Apple, he allegedly siphoned off "large amounts" of sensitive technology and source code, the indictment posted by CNBC alleges.

The man was a software engineer who worked on an Annotation Team that had "broad access" to databases accessible by only 2,700 of Apple's 135,000 employees, the DoJ claims.

In a search of Wang's home on June 27, 2018, the DoJ found vast amounts of confidential and proprietary data from Apple, states the indictment.

Despite the abundance of evidence and the search, Wang was still able to leave the country, after promising he wouldn't. Wang left on a flight to Guangzhou, China, making prosecution difficult.

Ismail Ramsey, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, said that Wang was still in China, and he would face ten years in prison for each count, if he is extradited and convicted.

The charges mean that Wang is the third person to face charges over Apple Car project technology.

Xiaolang Zhang had downloaded a 25-page schematic of a circuit board for use in an autonomous vehicle in 2018, but he was arrested before he boarded a flight to Beijing. By 2022, former "Project Titan" team member Zhang had pleaded guilty in federal court.

In 2019, Chinese national Jizhong Chen was arrested by the FBI over accusations they were trying to steal secrets relating to the self-driving platform. In that instance, Chen was arrested one day before he was scheduled to fly back to China.

Apple has so far declined to comment on Wang's case.