Chinese worker allegedly caught stealing Apple self-driving auto secrets

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Another Chinese national working for Apple's autonomous vehicle project has been arrested and accused by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of stealing trade secrets.

Just 11 days before the filing, on January 11, another Apple employee (who was not named) reported that they saw Chen taking "suspicious, wide-angled" photographs within the Apple workspace. Chen had applied for a job at a China-based autonomous vehicle company competing with Apple and he was arrested a day before he was due to fly home.

Apple hired Jizhong Chen last June to work on its self-driving auto project, which employs around 1,200 people. Instead, the worker claimed to be leaving the country to visit family rather than fleeing the U.S. with the secrets.

Chen faces ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine if found guilty of stealing trade secrets.

"Apple Global Security found thousands of files containing Apple's intellectual property, including manuals, schematics, and diagrams, photographs taken inside an Apple building and an assembly drawing of an Apple-designed wiring harness for an autonomous vehicle", the report said.

Chen explained to Apple that he downloaded these files as an "insurance policy" to augment his employment chances for a new position within Apple. According to the complaint, employees on the improvement plan may be fired if they fail to meet certain performance criteria after a set period of time.

"Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our IP very seriously", the company said in a statement.

Of course, trade secrets would still be important even if Apple does abandon Project Titan, its self-driving ambitions, altogether.

Jizhong Chen was hired as an electrical engineer in June 2018 for Cupertino's secretive autonomous vehicle project in the United States, which Apple has still yet to publicly acknowledge.

Zhang was arrested at the San Jose International Airport while attempting to board a flight to Beijing.

The US has charged Jizhong Chen with theft of trade secrets.

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