Ex-Google engineer accused of exploiting AI trade secrets while working with Chinese businesses

Ex-Google engineer accused of exploiting AI trade secrets while working with Chinese businesses
Ex-Google engineer accused of exploiting AI trade secrets while working with Chinese businesses

A former Google software engineer was charged with stealing the company’s artificial intelligence trade secrets while secretly working for two Chinese companies, the Justice Department reported.

A former Google software engineer has been charged with stealing the company’s artificial intelligence trade secrets while surreptitiously working for two Chinese companies, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Linwei Ding, a Chinese national, was arrested in Newark, California, for four charges of federal trade secret theft, each punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the case against Ding, 38, at an American Bar Association conference in San Francisco. Garland, along with other law enforcement leaders, has repeatedly warned about the threat of Chinese economic espionage as well as the national security concerns posed by advances in artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

“Today’s charges are the latest illustration of the lengths affiliates of companies based in the People’s Republic of China are willing to go to steal American innovation,” stated FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Theft of breakthrough technology and trade secrets from American companies can cause people to lose jobs and have terrible economic and national security implications. Google said it had concluded that the employee had stolen “numerous documents” and had submitted the case to law enforcement.

Following an investigation, it was discovered that this employee took multiple documents, and we promptly reported the incident to law enforcement. We are grateful to the FBI for their assistance in protecting our information and will continue to work closely with them.

A lawyer named as Ding’s defense attorney declined to comment Wednesday evening.

Artificial intelligence is the primary battleground for high-tech competitors, and who dominates can have far-reaching commercial and security repercussions. In recent weeks, Justice Department executives have warned that foreign adversaries may use Al technology to harm the United States.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a speech last month that the administration’s multi-agency Disruptive Technology Strike Force would place Al at the top of its enforcement priority list, and Wray told a colleague that Al and other emerging technologies had made it easier for adversaries to try to interfere with the American political process.

Wray stated at a conference last week that AI and other developing technologies had made it simpler for adversaries to attempt to tamper with the American electoral process.

Garland repeated those concerns at the San Francisco event on Wednesday, saying, “As with all evolving technologies, AI has pluses and minuses, advantages and disadvantages, great promise, and the risk of great harm.”

The indictment, unsealed Wednesday in the Northern District of California, alleges that Ding, who was hired by Google in 2019 and had access to sensitive information about the company’s supercomputing data centers, began uploading hundreds of files to a personal Google Cloud account two years ago.

According to authorities, Ding was offered the post of chief technical officer at an early-stage technology business in China that boasted its use of Al technology and offered him a monthly salary of around $14,800, plus an annual bonus and company stock, just weeks after the theft began. According to the indictment, Ding traveled to China to attend investor meetings and seek funding for the company.

He also built and served as CEO of a China-based startup company that aimed to train “large AI models powered by supercomputing chips,” according to the indictment.

Prosecutors claim Ding did not reveal his affiliation with Google, which identified him Wednesday as a junior employee. He resigned from Google on December 26.

Three days later, Google officials discovered Three days later, Google authorities discovered that he had spoken as the CEO of one of the Chinese firms at an investment conference in Beijing. Officials also analyzed security tape that showed another employee scanning Ding’s access badge at the Google building in the United States, where he worked to make it appear as if Ding was present when he was actually in China, according to the indictment.

Google suspended Ding’s network connection and locked his laptop, revealing his unlawful uploads while searching his network activity history.

In January, the FBI filed a search warrant at Ding’s house and seized his electronic equipment. They later executed an extra request for the contents of his personal accounts, which contained more than 500 distinct files of secret information that they claim he stole from Google.

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