Ex-Apple worker charged with stealing self-driving car trade secrets

Authorities arrested Zhang on July 7 at the San Jose airport after he passed through a security checkpoint. (AP)
Updated 11 July 2018
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Ex-Apple worker charged with stealing self-driving car trade secrets

  • The criminal complaint said Zhang was hired to develop software and hardware for Apple’s autonomous vehicle project, where he designed and tested circuit boards to analyze sensor data
  • Zhang also allegedly downloaded data to a personally owned computer, including a 25-page secret blueprint of a circuit board for a self-driving car

SAN FRANCISCO: US authorities charged a former Apple Inc. employee with stealing trade secrets on Monday, accusing him of downloading a blueprint related to a self-driving car to a personal laptop before trying to flee the country for China, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
The complaint said the former employee, Xiaolang Zhang, disclosed intentions to work for a Chinese self-driving car startup and booked a last-minute flight to China after downloading the plan for a circuit board for the self-driving car. Authorities arrested Zhang on July 7 at the San Jose airport after he passed through a security checkpoint.
“We’re working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions,” Apple said in a statement.
Tamara Crepet, a lawyer provisionally appointed to represent Zhang, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The FBI also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The criminal complaint said Zhang was hired to develop software and hardware for Apple’s autonomous vehicle project, where he designed and tested circuit boards to analyze sensor data.
In April, Zhang took paternity leave following the birth of a child and traveled with his family to China, according to the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.
When Zhang returned, he told his supervisor he planned to resign, move back to China and work for Xiaopeng Motors, an intelligent electric vehicle company headquartered there with offices in Silicon Valley, the complaint said.
Zhang’s supervisor called Apple security officials, who discovered that Zhang had run extensive searches of secret databases and had come on to Apple’s campus on April 28, when he was supposed to be on paternity leave, the complaint alleged.
While on campus, the complaint alleges, Zhang took circuit boards and a computer server from a self-driving car hardware lab, and his Apple co-workers showed him a “proprietary chip.”
The complaint did not state whether the chip was intended for self-driving cars. About 5,000 of Apple’s 135,000 employees were allowed access to information about its self-driving car project, but only 2,700 of them had access to the secret databases that Zhang had access to, according to the complaint.
Zhang told Apple officials he had taken the hardware from the lab because he wanted to transfer to a new position within Apple and thought it would be useful to him, the complaint said.
Zhang also allegedly downloaded data to a personally owned computer, including a 25-page secret blueprint of a circuit board for a self-driving car, which investigators described as “the single file” that “serves as the basis for the instant criminal charge.”
FBI agents questioned Zhang and served a search warrant at his house on June 27, according to the complaint. Agents learned he had purchased a “last-minute” round-trip airline ticket for China on July 7 and arrested Zhang at the airport, according to the complaint.
Fierce competition in autonomous vehicles has spilled into the courts, with industry leaders Alphabet Inc. and Baidu Inc. filing lawsuits accusing rivals of intellectual property theft.


Rake news: Social media ablaze on Trump’s forest remarks for Finland

Updated 19 November 2018
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Rake news: Social media ablaze on Trump’s forest remarks for Finland

  • US President Donald Trump claimed the forest-covered nation prevents wildfires by raking its forest floors
  • Raking-related terms were among the most popular Twitter hashtags and Google searches in the Nordic nation

HELSINKI: Social media in Finland was ablaze with bemused comments on Monday after US President Donald Trump claimed the forest-covered nation prevents wildfires by raking its forest floors.
Speaking to reporters during the weekend while in California to see the impact of devastating forest fires, the US president again blamed forest management, but said Finland had the answer.
Trump cited the Finnish president as telling him Finns “spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things (in the forest), and they don’t have any problem.”
However the Nordic country’s president, Sauli Niinisto, told the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper on Sunday that he had no recollection of raking being mentioned when the pair met in Paris a week ago.
“I told him that Finland is a country covered in forests, but we also have a good warning system and network,” the president said.
Finnish social media users were quick to pile in, describing Trump’s comments as “rake news” and posting pictures of themselves brandishing the garden implement.
By late Sunday, raking-related terms were among the most popular Twitter hashtags and Google searches in the Nordic nation which is 72 percent covered by forests, predominantly of pine, birch and fir.
Meanwhile Yrjo Niskanen, head of emergency preparedness at Finland’s national forest center, said the US president may have been referring to the practice of removing branches and loose material left in the forest after logging.
But he pointed out that this is not done with a rake — and the wood is collected for energy production.
“I’ve never thought before that it could be removed because of the fire risk, that’s not mentioned in any forestry manuals. It’s taken away purely for business reasons,” Niskanen told the Iltalehti newspaper.