Chinese national arrested, accused of stealing AI trade secrets from Google: NPR

A former Google engineer was accused of stealing AI technology while secretly working with two Chinese companies.

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A former Google engineer was accused of stealing AI technology while secretly working with two Chinese companies.

Carl Cort/Getty Images

A Chinese national who allegedly stole more than 500 files from Google containing confidential information on the company’s AI technology has been arrested and charged with stealing trade secrets, according to the Justice Department.

The defendant, former Google employee Linwei Ding, was arrested Wednesday morning in Newark, California. The 38-year-old faces four counts of theft of trade secrets. At the same time Ding was working for Google and stealing the building blocks of its AI technology, he was also secretly employed by two Chinese tech companies, prosecutors say.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could threaten our national security,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “We will vigorously protect sensitive technologies developed in the United States from falling into the hands of those who should not have them.”

The case is the latest example of what U.S. officials say is an ongoing campaign by China to try to steal U.S. trade secrets, technology and intellectual property. Officials say China’s goal is to use these stolen secrets to replace the United States as the world’s greatest power.

“Today’s charges are the latest example of how companies affiliated with companies based in the People’s Republic of China are willing to steal American innovation,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Theft of cutting-edge technology and trade secrets from American companies can cost jobs and have devastating economic and national security consequences.”

The United States is a world leader in AI, an emerging technology that could reshape many aspects of modern life.

AI can also become an indispensable tool to help law enforcement protect public safety. But Justice Department officials have also warned of potential threats to national security if AI falls into the hands of criminals or hostile nation states.

The department has also created a unit to protect advanced American technology, such as AI, from being stolen by foreign adversaries.

In Ding’s case, the indictment says the trade secrets it allegedly stole relate to “hardware infrastructure and software platforms that power Google’s supercomputing data centers powered by massive AI through machine learning.” Allows models to be trained.”

Ding was hired as a software engineer at Google in 2019, court papers said. According to prosecutors, his work focused on developing software related to machine learning and AI applications.

In May 2022, Ding allegedly began uploading classified information — more than 500 unique files in total — from Google’s network to a personal Google Cloud account.

Prosecutors say Ding tried to hide the stolen files by first copying them into the Apple Notes application on his laptop, converting them to PDF files and uploading them to his personal cloud account.

Less than a month later, according to court papers, Ding received emails from the head of Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology, a Chinese technology company, offering to become the company’s chief technology officer.

Ding reportedly traveled to China to help raise money for a company working on AI and was announced as the company’s CTO. A year later, Ding reportedly founded his own technology company Zhisuan, which also focused on AI and machine learning.

Prosecutors say Ding never informed Google of his ties to any Chinese companies, and continued to be employed by Google.

Then in December 2023, according to court papers, Google discovered that Ding had tried to upload more files from the company’s network to his personal account while he was in China. Ding reportedly told a company investigator that he had uploaded the files as evidence of his work for Google.

A week after the investigator’s interview, Ding allegedly booked a one-way ticket to Beijing. He then sent his resignation to Google. Shortly thereafter, the company learned of Ding’s role with Ziswan. Google subsequently suspended his access to the company’s networks.

Soon after, the FBI began its investigation.

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