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

Ren Zhengfei Tim CookHuawei founder Ren Zhengfei (left) and Apple CEO Tim Cook.AP Photo/Vincent Yu/Getty/Drew Angerer/Business Insider composite

  • Chinese tech company Huawei reportedly tried to glean trade secrets about Apple from suppliers and former employees, The Information reports.
  • An unnamed executive at an Apple Watch supplier said a Huawei engineer tried to pump them for information under the pretence 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.

Chinese phone giant Huawei's attempts to unearth secrets about Apple has been laid bare in a report by The Information.

The report revealed how a Huawei engineer attempted to pump an Apple supplier for information about the Apple Watch, while it also said ex-Apple employees were grilled during job interviews.

Messages viewed by The Information showed a Huawei engineer setting up a meeting with an unnamed executive at an Apple supplier. They arranged to meet in November last year, and the engineer reportedly dangled a potential deal with the supplier.

"Our design is similar to Apple's," the engineer wrote in a text. "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 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 Information. "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. "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," a spokesman said.

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 phone-tapping 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 reports that Huawei grilled former Apple employees for information about the company's technology in job interviews.

One ex-Apple worker said in a job interview for Huawei, 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.

Business Insider contacted Huawei and Apple for comment.

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