Ex-Google engineer arrested for alleged theft of AI secrets for Chinese firms – The Guardian

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A Chinese software engineer has been arrested for allegedly stealing artificial intelligence technology from Google while secretly working for two Chinese companies.

Linwei Ding, 38, also known as Leon Ding, faces four counts of theft of trade secrets, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, said in a statement.

Ding, who was arrested on Wednesday in Newark, California, allegedly transferred confidential information from Google’s network to his personal account while secretly affiliated with Chinese-based companies in the AI industry.

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

“We will fiercely protect sensitive technologies developed in America from falling into the hands of those who should not have them.”

Ding’s arrest illustrates “the lengths affiliates of companies based in the People’s Republic of China are willing to go to steal American innovation”, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, said, referring to China by its official name.

“The theft of innovative technology and trade secrets from American companies can cost jobs and have devastating economic and national security consequences,” he added.

According to the indictment, Ding was hired by Google in 2019 and was involved in developing the software deployed in Google’s supercomputing data centers.

He allegedly began uploading confidential Google information into a personal cloud account between May 2022 and May 2023.

The pilfered files related to the hardware infrastructure and software platform that allows Google’s supercomputing data centers to train large AI models through machine learning.

In June 2022, Ding was approached by the chief executive of a Chinese early-stage technology company, Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology Co (Rongshu), and offered the position of chief technology officer with a monthly salary of $14,800, the indictment said.

Some time before May 2023, Ding also founded his own China-based company, Shanghai Zhisuan Technology Co (Zhisuan), and named himself CEO, it said.

Ding never informed Google about his affiliation with Rongshu or Zhisuan, according to the indictment.

After Ding resigned from Google in December 2023, the Mountain View, California-based company searched his network activity history and discovered his May 2022 to May 2023 unauthorized uploads.

“After an investigation, we found that this employee stole numerous documents, and we quickly referred the case to law enforcement,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said.

“We have strict safeguards to prevent the theft of our confidential commercial information and trade secrets,” Castaneda said. “We are grateful to the FBI for helping protect our information and will continue cooperating with them closely.”

Ding faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if convicted and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.

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