U.S. Charges Chinese National in Alleged Theft of AI Trade Secrets from Google

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An ex-Google software engineer allegedly took over 500 files with confidential information on the company’s supercomputing infrastructure, as revealed in a federal indictment in San Francisco.

Linwei Ding, a Chinese national residing in Newark, California, was taken into custody on Wednesday and accused of four counts of misappropriating trade secrets. The individual was accused by federal prosecutors of moving confidential data from Google to a personal account in order to assist tech companies in China.

The defendant began working for Google in 2019, specializing in software development for machine learning and AI programs, according to court documents. Starting in May 2022, prosecutors stated that he spent a year methodically stealing the tech giant’s confidential information. 

In June 2022, as per the charging documents, Ding received emails from the CEO of a tech company based in Beijing offering him over $14,000 per month to work as an executive specializing in machine learning and AI training models. In the following year, prosecutors mentioned that Ding established his own company and presented his tech business to investors at a Beijing venture capital conference. 

An alleged marketing document Ding shared with investors during the meeting highlighted his familiarity with Google’s platform. 

“We simply need to duplicate and enhance it, and then continue to build a computational power platform that fits China’s national situation,” as stated in the document by prosecutors. 

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Alleged Trade Secret Theft and FBI Investigation

He allegedly kept accessing information from Google until December 2023, when company officials became aware of his actions. After several weeks, Ding decided to step down from his role and purchase a plane ticket to Beijing. He made his way back to Newark and was taken into custody on Wednesday morning following an FBI investigation that lasted for months. It was unclear if Ding had legal representation at that time.

Our company has rigorous measures in place to protect our confidential commercial information and trade secrets. Following an investigation, it was discovered that the employee had taken several documents. The case was promptly handed over to law enforcement,” stated José Castañeda, a Google spokesperson. We appreciate the FBI’s assistance in safeguarding our data and will maintain close collaboration with them. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized the importance of preventing the theft of trade secrets during an event in San Francisco on Monday. He echoed concerns raised by national security officials regarding the theft of American technology by foreign adversaries.

This is the first time charges have been brought against Ding since the Justice Department announced a focus on artificial intelligence technology to combat such threats. Last month, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco emphasized the importance of safeguarding AI, highlighting it as a top priority for law enforcement due to its disruptive nature.

 

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