Ex-Google engineer charged with stealing AI secrets

Linwei Ding is also accused of secretly working for Chinese competitors.
Ex-Google engineer charged with stealing AI secrets
Google logo at California officeReuters

A former Google software engineer has been charged in the US with stealing trade secrets about artificial intelligence (AI) while secretly working for two Chinese companies.

Linwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, was indicted in the state of California on four charges and arrested on Wednesday.

The Chinese national allegedly stole more than 500 confidential files.

He faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines on each count.

A lawyer for Mr Ding could not be identified to comment on the case, local media reported.

The information he is accused of taking relates to the infrastructure of Google’s supercomputing data centres, which are used to host and train large AI models.

According to the indictment, Mr Ding was hired by Google in 2019 and his responsibilities included developing this software.

He allegedly began uploading information stored in Google’s network to a personal Google account in May 2022. These uploads continued periodically for a year, the indictment reads.

Meanwhile, he is said to have spent several months in China working for a start-up tech company that approached him. The indictment says he was offered $14,800 (£11,620) per month to be the company’s Chief Technology Officer.

He is also alleged to have started his own tech firm, which had a focus on AI and machine learning, and made himself the CEO.

Prosecutors allege Mr Ding never told Google about his work for either company.

The indictment states that he applied to a China-based organisation to help develop this business and presented it at an investor conference in China in November 2023.

The following month, he was flagged by Google trying to upload more files to his personal computer while in China, but Mr Ding told Google’s investigator it was to provide proof that he worked for the tech giant.

When he returned to the US and unbeknownst to Google, Mr Ding is said to have booked a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Beijing, before resigning on 26 December.

Days later, Google once again became suspicious after learning about his actions at the conference and suspended his access – searching his activity history to reveal the unauthorised uploads.

The case was then referred to federal authorities.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement on Wednesday that Linwei Ding was seeking to enrich himself by covertly working for companies that were “seeking an edge in the AI technology race”.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could put our national security at risk,” Mr Garland said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said Mr Ding’s alleged actions “are the latest illustration of the lengths” companies in China will go to, “to steal American innovation”.

The US and China have been engaged in a bitter trade battle in recent years, with both sides attempting to gain a competitive edge over the other.

The dispute has seen both countries impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of one another’s goods.

Trade relations have worsened under the Biden administration, with the two sides imposing new barriers on trade, including restrictions on computer chip exports.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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