A precedent Apple software engineer was charged with stealing Apple’s autonomous technology for a Chinese self-driving car company, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
Weibao Wang worked as a software engineer at Apple from 2016 to 2018, a DOJ prosecution said. Wang worked on Apple’s notes team and was given “broad access” to databases that the Justice Department said only 2,700 of Apple’s 135,000 employees could access.
Wang is the third former Apple employee accused of stealing autonomous trade secrets for China.
Wang has been charged with six different counts involving the theft or attempted theft of Apple’s “entire autonomy source code,” tracking systems, behavior planning for autonomous systems, and descriptions of the hardware behind the systems.
A year into his tenure, four months before he quit his job at Apple, Wang accepted a job at the US-based subsidiary of an unnamed Chinese company developing autonomous driving technology and began siphoning “large amounts” of sensitive commercial technology and source code, the indictment alleged.
As of April 2017, only 5,000 of Apple’s 135,000 full-time employees had been briefed on the project, according to the DOJ count, or around 4% of the company. An even smaller segment, around 2%, had access to “one or more” of the databases Wang accessed, the indictment continues.
Law enforcement executed a search warrant at Wang’s home in California on June 27, 2018, where they found large amounts of stolen, confidential and proprietary data, according to the indictment. Wang was able to flee the country even after law enforcement conducted the search, despite promising that he would not.
Wang boarded a flight to Guangzhou, China from San Francisco International Airport. At a press conference, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, Ismail Ramsey, said Wang was in China and would face 10 years in prison on each charge if extradited and convicted.
The charges were announced as part of a sweeping enforcement action led by the Disruptive Technology Strike Force. Four other cases were uncovered across the United States, involving criminal conduct to supply Iranian forces with sensitive ballistic technology, Russian intelligence and research units with quantum technology, and sanctions-violating exports.
The charges against Wang come after another Apple employee, Xiaolang Zhang, bath guilty in San Jose federal court of a similar theft involving trade secrets in Apple’s automotive division.
Like Wang, Zhang had planned to flee to China. Both Zhang and Wang worked at Apple’s autonomous division at the same time, and both left Apple in 2018.
Another employee, Jizhong Chen, was as well turn towards federal charges for his alleged theft of sensitive information in 2019. Chen also tried to flee to China, according to court documents. Chen’s case is pending in California federal court.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the indictment here:
— CNBC’s Kif Leswing contributed to this report.