Former Google engineer charged with stealing AI technology for Chinese firms

The information he is accused of taking relates to the building blocks of Google’s advanced supercomputing data centres

Google said the company was able to act quickly and refer the case to law enforcement. AP
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A Chinese software engineer working for Alphabet's Google has been charged with stealing trade secrets from the company’s supercomputing data centres.

Linwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, 38, a Chinese national and resident of Newark, California, who was hired by Google in 2019, has been charged with four counts of trade secrets theft related to artificial intelligence, the US Justice Department said on Wednesday.

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

“We allege the defendant stole artificial intelligence-related trade secrets from Google while secretly working for two companies based in China,” attorney general Merrick Garland said.

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

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A Google official said Mr Ding acted alone and that the company was quick to act and refer the case to law enforcement after discovering the problem.

“We have strict safeguards to prevent the theft of our confidential commercial information and trade secrets,” Google official José Castañeda said.

“We are grateful to the FBI for helping protect our information and will continue co-operating with them closely.”

Mr Ding allegedly transferred sensitive information from Google’s network to his personal email and cloud accounts while secretly affiliating himself with two China-based companies working in the AI industry.

Mr Ding allegedly helped form one of the unidentified companies. He did not disclose his connection to either company to Google. The Justice Department doesn’t allege that Mr Ding provided either of the companies with specific data he stole from Google.

The case marks the first significant enforcement action since deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco announced last month that the Justice Department’s disruptive technology strike force would focus on breaches related to the use or transfer of AI technology.

The US Attorney has recently prosecuted multiple cases over intellectual property theft, including three ex-Apple engineers accused of stealing trade secrets from the company’s autonomous driving project.

However, not all the office’s efforts have been successful.

Last month, a Chinese chipmaker was found not guilty of all charges in a rare economic espionage case, ending a five-year pursuit by prosecutors.

The technology he allegedly stole “involves the building blocks of Google’s advanced supercomputing data centres, which are designed to support machine learning workloads used to train and host large AI models”, according to the Justice Department.

While employed by Google, Mr Ding had access to confidential information about hardware, software and the AI models and applications they supported. He is alleged to have uploaded some of the information into personal accounts.

Updated: March 07, 2024, 6:06 AM