Grilling ex-employees in job interviews and interrogating suppliers: How Huawei tried to discover Apple's secrets

AP Photo/Vincent Yu/Getty/Drew Angerer/Business Insider compositeHuawei founder Ren Zhengfei, left, and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
  • The Chinese tech company Huawei tried to glean trade secrets about Apple from suppliers and former employees, The Information reported on Monday.
  • An unnamed executive at an Apple Watch supplier said a Huawei engineer tried to pump them for information under the pretense of setting up a business deal.
  • A former Apple employee said they were grilled about Apple’s upcoming tech during a job interview at Huawei.

The Chinese phone giant Huawei’s attempts to unearth secrets about Apple were laid bare in a report by The Information published Monday.

The report said that a Huawei engineer attempted to pump an Apple supplier for information about the Apple Watch, as well as that former Apple employees were grilled during job interviews.

Citing messages it saw, The Information said that when a Huawei engineer set up a meeting last November with an unnamed executive at an Apple supplier, the engineer dangled a potential deal with the supplier.

“Our design is similar to Apple’s,” the engineer wrote in a text, according to The Information. “Let’s first talk generally about the cost of a prototype before we provide the schematic.” They added that sales of Huawei’s wearables were expected to hit 1 million, the report said.

The engineer arrived at the meeting along with four Huawei researchers. Huawei’s representatives then spent an hour and a half trying to pump the supplier for information, according to the report. “They were trying their luck, but we wouldn’t tell them anything,” the supplier said.

When contacted for comment by The Information, Huawei denied any wrongdoing. Huawei repeated this when contacted by Business Insider, and a spokeswoman for Huawei issued the following statement:

“Huawei requires its suppliers to uphold a high standard of ethics, including signing our Honesty and Integrity Agreement or entering similar commitments, and expects its suppliers to honour their confidentiality obligations to their other customers when communicating with Huawei. In conducting research and development, Huawei employees must search and use publicly available information and respect third-party intellectual property per our Business Conduct Guidelines. Huawei does not seek or have access to our competitors’ confidential information.”

This is not the first time Huawei has been accused of trying to dig up information on a US rival. The US charged Huawei in January with trying to steal trade secrets from T-Mobile, specifically information about a robot named “Tappy.”

Read more:
Huawei is accused of attempting to copycat a T-Mobile robot, and the charges read like a comical spy movie

The Information further reported that Huawei grilled former Apple employees for information about the company’s technology in job interviews.

One former Apple worker said they were asked repeatedly about Apple’s upcoming products and features. “It was clear they were more interested in trying to learn about Apple than they were in hiring me,” they said.

Apple did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

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