Engineer accused of stealing Google’s AI secrets for Chinese startup

08.03.2024


A former Google engineer, Linwei Ding, has been indicted on four counts of theft of trade secrets for allegedly stealing advanced technology from Google’s artificial intelligence program to establish a competing business in China. The 38-year-old Chinese citizen was arrested in Newark, California, near Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters. The charges were announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland at the American Bar Association’s annual white-collar crime conference in San Francisco.

Garland emphasized the case as a demonstration of U.S. law enforcement’s commitment to thwarting China’s attempts to advance its AI industry by illicitly obtaining technology developed by American companies. According to the indictment, Ding uploaded over 500 confidential Google files to his personal Google Cloud account between May 2022 and May 2023 while simultaneously pursuing opportunities in China. This included discussions with Beijing-based Rongshu for a chief technology officer role and establishing his own Shanghai-based company, Zhisuan.

The indictment alleges that Ding concealed his connections with these Chinese firms from Google and took measures to hide his travels to China, such as asking a colleague to swipe his access badge at Google’s offices when he was abroad. Ding, employed by Google since 2019, worked on projects related to the software platforms in the company’s supercomputer data centers.

Google discovered Ding’s activities in December, leading to the suspension of his access, remote locking of his laptop, and detection of unauthorized data uploads dating back to 2022. While the charges suggest that Ding’s ventures in China would directly compete with Google’s AI development, they fall short of claiming he actually utilized the allegedly stolen secrets.

Ding pleaded not guilty to the charges during his appearance in federal court in San Francisco and was released on a $150,000 bond. Google promptly contacted the FBI upon discovering the alleged breach and expressed gratitude for the FBI’s assistance in protecting their information.

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