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Apple Engineer Allegedly Stole Self-driving Car Secrets, Source Code, Before Jumping Ship to Baidu

The same day a search warrant was executed at Wang Weibao's home in Mountain View, he drove to the San Francisco airport, purchased a one-way ticket to Guangzhou, and left the United States.
Neil Campbell
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: May 17, 2023
Former Apple Engineer Wang Weibao stole Apple Project Titan secrets while working for Baidu's Jidu on the sly, allegedly.
A file photo of Hong Kongers outside an Apple store during the 2019 Heaven Will Eliminate the Chinese Communist Party protests. The DOJ has charged former Apple engineer Wang Weibo with six felony counts, alleging the man stole autonomous driving trade secrets, including the entire source code, while moonlighting for a mainland company. Information published on the Chinese Internet appears to show the man now works for Baidu. (Image: ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

The Department of Justice has charged a Chinese national who worked as a software engineer for the bedrock of the U.S. equities market, Apple, on the development of autonomous driving technology, alleging the man stole data from the project for his employment with a rival company headquartered in the mainland.

Emergence of the story is somewhat unique in that the Grand Jury Indictment, which is dated April 11, made headlines in an article by CNBC for a May 16 article, but was actually part of a five-case cluster announced by the DOJ’s Disruptive Technology Strike Force in a same-day press release.

The Indictment alleges that Wang Weibao was one of 5,000 of Apple’s 185,000 employees who worked in a 2018 project surrounding “the research and development of technology related to autonomous systems…which can have a variety of applications, such as self-driving cars.”


Employment on the project required something of an internal security clearance Apple refers to as a “disclosure” level ranked as “need to know.” 

Moreover, only slightly more than half of the 5,000 employees on the project had access to internal databases for the autonomous systems technology. Wang was not only one, but had “broad access” because of his position, the pleadings state.

The case dates back to March 2016 when Wang started a position as a software engineer at Apple on the project’s “Annotation Team,” a team the DOJ describes as having “worked on algorithms to accelerate or enhance the process of annotating real-world objects.”

In April 2018, Wang tendered his resignation with two weeks’ notice provided. The Indictment states that the employee did not indicate where he intended to work after departure, and in an exit interview, Wang did not disclose his intentions to supervisors.

However, the DOJ alleges that in November 2017, Wang had “signed a letter accepting an offer of full-time employment as a Staff Engineer with the U.S.-based subsidiary of another company that was headquartered in the People’s Republic of China and was working to develop self-driving cars.”

The company may be connected to Jidu, an arm of Baidu, a platform positioned as something of a Google and a Wikipedia in the Chinese-language Internet tightly wed to the ruling Communist Party.

A June 2022 article published by Reuters stated that Jidu, which was announcing a “robot” concept car at the time, “Has hired ex-Cadillac designer Frank Wu as its head of design, and Wang Weibao, a former member of Apple Inc’s EV initiative Project Titan, as its head of intelligent driving.”

A October 2021 Chinese-language article published on Baidu states that Wang was hired by Jidu “as the person in charge of the company’s intelligent driving,” according to Google translate.

The article says that after Wang worked on Apple’s Project Titan, he “then returned to China for a short period of time to start a business. After that, he served as the chief technology officer of an unmanned driving start-up company. Most of his main experience was related to autonomous driving,”

The article states Wang was born in 1988, while the DOJ’s press release states the man charged is 35 years old, and included a screenshot of his LinkedIn profile showing a start date at Apple of March 2016.

When Apple began to examine access logs to the databases in May 2018, the company noticed Wang had allegedly “accessed large amounts of sensitive Project information in the days leading up to his departure from Apple.”

As a result, in June 2018, a search warrant was executed against Wang’s home in Mountain View where his personal electronic devices were seized. 

During the raid, Wang told agents he had no plans to travel.

But the Indictment states that later that evening, Wang went straight to the San Francisco International Airport, purchased a one-way ticket to Guangzhou, southern China, and left the country.

The DOJ alleges that analysis of devices stolen “revealed that he had stored large quantities of data taken from Apple prior to his departure,” up to and including, “the entire Project source code, as it existed at the time.”

Six counts of felony theft and attempted theft of trade secrets are levied against the man, alleging he stole various data, titled as “Tracking,” “Behavior Planner,” “Architecture Design,” and a “Motion Planner” for “autonomous systems” in April 2018.

Notably, the case alleges that the “entire autonomy source code” was collected as far back as August 2016.

If Wang were extradited to the United States to face trial and found guilty on all counts, maximum penalties faced could be as high as 60 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines, the pleadings state.