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SoftBank accuses Rakuten of industrial espionage

A former employee of Japanese operator group Softbank, who now works for rival MNO Rakuten Mobile, has been arrested on suspicion of violating unfair competition prevention law.

So says an announcement from SoftBank, which is currently only published in Japanese, so things may have been lost in Google translation. It says that, while the employee was serving out the notice they handed in at the end of 2019, they made off with some trade secrets concerning 5G base stations.

“We recognize that our trade secrets are stored on Rakuten Mobile’s business PCs used by the former employee, and that it is highly likely that Rakuten Mobile has already used our trade secrets in some way,” says the translated announcement. The rest of it is concerned with reassuring the world that such a thing will never be permitted to happen again.

Japan Times is among the media to have identified the alleged industrial spy as Kuniaki Aiba. It looks like his infiltration technique consisted of emailing confidential information from his work email to his personal one while he was on his notice period, so we can assume he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box.

The bigger scandal will come if it’s shown that other people at Rakuten were aware of the theft, if the secrets have been shared within Rakuten, and if it can be shown Rakuten has taken any steps to use them. Rakuten doesn’t seem to have made any public comment on the matter yet, but it seems safe to assume Aiba’s days with his new employer are numbered.

 

UPDATE – 09:00 13/1/21: Rakuten got in touch to offer the following translation of their statement on the matter.

About the arrest of an employee

Today, an employee of Rakuten Mobile, Inc. was arrested on suspicion of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Act.

The company is conducting a through internal review of the matter and has found no evidence at this stage that the employee in question has used the business information acquired from their former position in their current work with Rakuten Mobile. The business information in question does not include any information on 5G technology.

We sincerely regret any trouble caused to all related parties by this incident. We are taking this matter very seriously and are fully committed to cooperating with the police in their investigation of this matter.

Rakuten Mobile, Inc.

Representative Director and President

Yoshihisa Yamada


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