Former Google Engineer Charged with AI Trade Secret Theft

The US has indicted Linwei Ding, a former Google software engineer, for allegedly stealing trade secrets related to artificial intelligence (AI) while clandestinely working for two Chinese companies. Ding, also known as Leon Ding, faces four charges and was arrested in California.

Accused of pilfering over 500 confidential files, Ding could potentially serve up to 10 years in prison and face fines of $250,000 per count if convicted. However, no identifiable lawyer for Ding has been reported to comment on the case.

The stolen information reportedly pertains to Google’s supercomputing data centre infrastructure, crucial for hosting and training large AI models. Ding, employed by Google since 2019, was responsible for developing this software. Allegedly, he began uploading data from Google’s network to his personal account in May 2022, continuing periodically for a year.

During this time, Ding also worked for Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology, receiving a lucrative salary as their Chief Technology Officer. He allegedly established his own tech firm, Shanghai Zhisuan Technology, focusing on AI and machine learning, where he served as CEO.

Neither Rongshu nor Zhisuan responded immediately to the BBC’s requests for comment. Prosecutors claim Ding failed to disclose his employment with either company to Google.

The indictment reveals that Ding applied to a Chinese organisation to aid in his business development efforts, presenting it at an investor conference in November 2023. Subsequently, Google flagged his attempts to upload more files while in China, prompting suspicion.

Upon his return to the US, Ding booked a one-way ticket to Beijing and resigned from Google. Google later suspended his access and investigated unauthorised uploads, leading to Ding’s arrest.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland condemned Ding’s actions, accusing him of covertly assisting companies vying for AI supremacy. FBI Director Christopher Wray echoed Garland’s sentiments, highlighting the lengths to which Chinese companies allegedly go to steal American innovation.

The US-China trade dispute, marked by tariffs and technological restrictions, has escalated under the Biden administration, reflecting heightened tensions over economic competitiveness and national security concerns.