Feds: Ex-Google Engineer Stole AI Trade Secrets for China

38-year-old accused of secretly working with 2 Chinese companies
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 7, 2024 12:00 AM CST
Ex-Google Engineer Stole AI Trade Secrets for China: Officials
Items are displayed in the Google Store at the Google Visitor Experience in Mountain View, Calif., Oct. 11, 2023.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

A former software engineer at Google has been charged with stealing artificial intelligence trade secrets from the company while secretly working with two companies based in China, the Justice Department said Wednesday. Linwei Ding, a Chinese national, was arrested in Newark, California, on four counts of federal trade secret theft, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison, the AP reports. Google said it had determined that the employee had stolen "numerous documents" and referred the matter to law enforcement. The indictment unsealed Wednesday in the Northern District of California alleges that Ding, 38, who was hired by Google in 2019 and had access to confidential information about the company's supercomputing data centers, began uploading hundreds of files into a personal Google Cloud account two years ago.

Within weeks of the theft starting, prosecutors say, Ding was offered the position of chief technology officer at an early-stage technology company in China that touted its use of AI technology and that offered him a monthly salary of about $14,800, plus an annual bonus and company stock. The indictment says Ding traveled to China and participated in investor meetings at the company and sought to raise capital for it. He also separately founded and served as chief executive of a China-based startup company that aspired to train "large AI models powered by supercomputing chips," the indictment said. Prosecutors say Ding did not disclose either affiliation to Google, which described him Wednesday as a junior employee. He resigned from Google last Dec. 26.

Three days later, Google officials learned that he had presented as CEO of one of the Chinese companies at an investor conference in Beijing. Officials also reviewed surveillance footage showing that another employee had scanned Ding's access badge at the Google building in the US where he worked to make it look like Ding was there during times when he was actually in China, the indictment says. Google suspended Ding's network access and locked his laptop, and discovered his unauthorized uploads while searching his network activity history. The FBI in January served a search warrant at Ding's home and seized his electronic devices, and later executed an additional warrant for the contents of his personal accounts containing more than 500 unique files of confidential information that authorities say he stole from Google.

(More Google stories.)

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