Former Google employee arrested for stealing AI trade secrets

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A former Google employee and Chinese national was charged with stealing trade secrets, the U.S. Justice Department said today. The defendant worked as a software engineer at Google, mostly working on machine learning and artificial intelligence technology. The former employee, 38-year-old Linwei Ding, allegedly stole over 500 files related to proprietary AI technology from Google. Ding was working for two companies based in China at the time, according to prosecutors. The stolen documents are about “the hardware infrastructure and software platform that allow Google’s supercomputing data centers to train large AI models through machine learning,” per the filings.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could put our national security at risk,” said Merrick Garland, the U.S. Attorney General, in a statement reported by NPR. “We will fiercely protect sensitive technologies developed in America from falling into the hands of those who should not have them.”

How the former Google employee was stealing trade secrets

Ding started working at Google in 2019, and allegedly began stealing trade secrets in 2022. He is said to have uploaded confidential Google files to a personal Google Cloud account. Then, Ding allegedly accepted an offer from the China-based Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology company to become its CTO. In 2023, Ding is claimed to have created his own company, known as Zhisuan. The former employee failed to notify Google that he was working for either of the two companies.

Google first noticed that Ding was attempting to steal files in December 2023. Then, the company investigated, and Ding eventually resigned from Google and bought a one-way flight to China. After, the Federal Bureau of Investigation started looking into the matter.

“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,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. “The theft of innovative technology and trade secrets from American companies can cost jobs and have devastating economic and national security consequences.”

Google thanked the FBI for getting involved

Google thanked the FBI for stepping in. It also told NPR that there are “strict safeguards to prevent theft of our confidential commercial information and trade secrets” in place at the company.

“After an investigation, we found that this employee stole numerous documents, and we quickly referred the case to law enforcement,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement to NPR. “We are grateful to the FBI for helping protect our information and will continue cooperating with them closely.”

Now, the proceedings will continue. Ding is up against four counts of stealing trade secrets. Each count comes with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. Additionally, Ding could also be fined $250,000 for each count.