Ex-Google engineer charged with stealing AI secrets

Ex-Google engineer charged with stealing AI secrets
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Ex-Google engineer charged with stealing AI secrets

A former software engineer at Google, Linwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, has been charged by the US government with allegedly stealing trade secrets related to artificial intelligence (AI) while working covertly for two Chinese companies. The indictment, filed in California, includes four charges against Ding, who was arrested on Wednesday. According to the accusations, the Chinese national illicitly obtained over 500 confidential files. If found guilty, he could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines per count.

Allegations and Covert Activities

The indictment outlines that Ding was employed by Google starting in 2019, tasked with developing software for the company’s supercomputing data centers, crucial for hosting and training large AI models. However, starting in May 2022, Ding allegedly began transferring information from Google’s network to his personal Google account, a practice that continued for approximately a year. During this time, he is said to have spent several months working in China for Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology, receiving a lucrative offer as the company’s Chief Technology Officer.

Moreover, Ding is accused of establishing his own tech firm, Shanghai Zhisuan Technology, focusing on AI and machine learning, where he assumed the role of CEO. Despite his employment with these companies, prosecutors allege that Ding never disclosed his activities to Google. In November 2023, he reportedly presented his work at an investor conference in China, raising further suspicions within Google. Subsequently, after attempting to upload additional files while in China, Google suspended his access and later discovered the unauthorized uploads.

Repercussions and National Security Concerns

US Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized that Ding’s actions were driven by personal gain, posing a threat to national security interests. He underscored the Justice Department’s commitment to combating the theft of advanced technologies, particularly in the AI sector. FBI Director Christopher Wray echoed these sentiments, characterizing Ding’s alleged actions as indicative of broader attempts by Chinese entities to pilfer American innovation. This case underscores the intensifying competition between the US and China in the tech sphere, amid escalating trade tensions and concerns over intellectual property theft.

 

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