Jul 11, 2018

Why Apple needs (but hates) to sue leakers

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While Apple hates when people spill its secrets, it also hates having to go to court against leakers. That’s because the legal process often forces the company to talk about things it would otherwise never reveal.

Why it matters: In the latest case, Apple would appear to have had little choice. Criminal charges were brought Tuesday by the U.S. government against former Apple autonomous vehicle system engineer Xiaolang Zhang.

Zhang is accused of trade secret theft for downloading thousands of Apple documents and stealing a server before taking a job with Xiaopeng Motors, a Chinese company pursuing autonomous vehicle efforts.

Be smart: In going to the cops, Apple now has to deal with revelations about a project that Apple has said precious little about. Several key details were revealed in the initial complaint.

  • The most widely discussed detail: 5,000 people had access to information related to Project Titan, Apple's autonomy project. Some are misreading this to suggest Apple has 5,000 people devoted to self-driving efforts. That's probably not the case, but it also indicates that reports that it has more than 1,000 people on the effort are certainly true. Zhang was a "core employee" on the team and one of 2,700 Apple employees with access to one or more of the team's databases.
  • Apple also had to confirm various pieces of the project, including the fact it is working on both software and hardware and using custom circuit boards to analyze sensor data.
  • Apple also detailed its efforts to protect sensitive information, including a process whereby those that need access on a secret project need to be "sponsored" by an employee that already has access.

History lesson: In past court cases, such as the Samsung lawsuit, the public learned how Apple designs its products around a kitchen table, and got a peek at various iPhone and iPad prototypes, among other revelations.

Not just Apple: While Apple is among the most secretive companies in Silicon Valley, it is far from alone. Alphabet's Waymo, for example, went to great lengths in its case against Uber to avoid having to share details on its business practices.

The bottom line: It's always a cost-benefit analysis for companies like Apple. When they do take legal action, it means that they have decided that clamping down on leaks or punishing those who have leaked is of greater importance than the further disclosures that will inevitably flow from such litigation.

Our thought bubble: While Tuesday's filing didn't exactly lay bare Apple's plans, it's certainly more than Apple would otherwise share.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 665,164 — Total deaths: 30,852 — Total recoveries: 140,225.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 124,665 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by early Sunday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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Gilead expands access to experimental coronavirus drug in emergency cases

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness the treatment of the novel coronavirus has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

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