Ex-Google Engineer Accused of Stealing AI Secrets

A former Google software engineer faces charges in the US for allegedly taking trade secrets related to artificial intelligence (AI) while working for two Chinese companies.

Linwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, faced indictment in California on four charges and was taken into custody on Wednesday.

It is reported that the Chinese national has taken over 500 confidential files.

If found guilty, he could potentially be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison and fined $250,000 for each charge.

According to local media reports, a lawyer representing Mr. Ding could not be identified for comment on the case.

The data he allegedly took pertains to Google’s supercomputing data centres, which are utilised for hosting and training extensive AI models.

As per the indictment, Mr. Ding was recruited by Google in 2019 with the task of developing this software.

Reportedly, he started transferring data from Google’s network to a personal Google account in May 2022. These uploads were made periodically for a year, according to the indictment.

In the meantime, he reportedly spent several months in China working for Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology – a start-up tech company that reached out to him. The document states that he was offered $14,800 (£11,620) per month to serve as the company’s Chief Technology Officer.

He reportedly founded his own tech company, Shanghai Zhisuan Technology, with a strong emphasis on AI and machine learning, and appointed himself as the CEO.

The BBC reached out to Rongshu, but Zhisuan was unavailable for immediate comment.

Prosecutors claim that Mr. Ding did not inform Google about his employment with either company.

The indictment mentions that he sought assistance from a China-based organisation to advance this business and showcased it at an investor conference in China in November 2023.

In the next month, he got noticed by Google for attempting to upload additional files to his personal computer while in China. However, Mr. Ding explained to Google’s investigator that he was doing so to demonstrate his employment at the tech company.

Upon his return to the US, Mr. Ding reportedly booked a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Beijing without Google’s knowledge, and then resigned on December 26th.

After a few days, Google grew wary upon discovering his behaviour at the conference and decided to suspend his access. They checked his activity history and found unauthorised uploads.

A Google spokesperson emphasised the company’s commitment to protecting its confidential information and trade secrets, stating that they promptly notified authorities upon discovering any potential wrongdoing.

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In a recent statement, US Attorney General Merrick Garland accused Linwei Ding of attempting to profit by secretly collaborating with companies looking to gain an advantage in the AI technology competition.

Mr Garland emphasised the importance of protecting advanced technologies to safeguard national security.

FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed concern over Mr. Ding’s alleged actions, highlighting the extent to which companies in China will go to steal American innovation.

In recent years, the US and China have been locked in a fierce trade conflict, each striving to outdo the other.

Both countries have placed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of each other’s goods during the conflict.

Trade relations have deteriorated during the Biden administration, as both parties have implemented additional trade barriers, such as restrictions on computer chip exports.

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