An ex-Google developer is accused of stealing secrets related to artificial intelligence

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4 min readMar 7, 2024

The United States of America has brought charges against a former software engineer at Google for allegedly stealing trade secrets pertaining to artificial intelligence (AI) while working covertly for two private Chinese companies.

In the state of California, Linwei Ding, who is also known by his alternative name, Leon Ding, was arrested on Wednesday after being indicted on four offenses.

According to the allegations, the Chinese national stole more than five hundred classified data.

On each count, he could face a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a fine of two hundred fifty thousand dollars.

According to the local media, it was not possible to identify a lawyer representing Mr. Ding who could comment on the issue.

There is a connection between the information that he is accused of obtaining and the infrastructure of Google’s supercomputing data centers, which are utilized to host and train big artificial intelligence models.

In 2019, Mr. Ding was hired by Google, and one of his responsibilities involved the development of this program, as stated in the indictment.

In the month of May 2022, it is believed that he started uploading information that was kept on Google’s network to a personal Google account. According to the accusation, these uploads proceeded on a regular basis for a period of one year.

He is claimed to have spent many months in China working for Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology, a start-up technology company that approached him. During this time, he is said to have been in China. In the indictment, it is stated that he was promised a monthly salary of $14,800 (or £11,620) to serve as the Chief Technology Officer of the corporation.

It is also said that he established his own technology company, Shanghai Zhisuan Technology, with a concentration on artificial intelligence and machine learning, and that he appointed himself as the CEO of the company.

The BBC has attempted to get in touch with Rongshu, but Zhisuan could not be reached for comment at the time of this writing.

According to the prosecution, Mr. Ding did not disclose to Google that he worked for either of the companies.

According to the indictment, he submitted an application to a Chinese-based organization in order to receive assistance in developing this firm, and he presented it at an investment conference held in China in November of 2023.

During the subsequent month, he was detected by Google as attempting to upload further files to his personal computer while he was in China. However, Mr. Ding explained to the investigator that he was doing so in order to offer evidence that he was employed by the technology giant.

Mr. Ding is alleged to have bought a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Beijing before he resigned on December 26. This was done without Google’s knowledge when he returned to the United States.

After a few days had passed, Google once again grew suspicious after learning about his conduct at the conference. As a result, they suspended his access and searched his activity history to uncover the unauthorised uploads.

Google, according to José Castañeda, a spokesperson for the business, has implemented “stringent safeguards to prevent the theft of our confidential commercial information and trade secrets.” Castañeda also stated that the company promptly notified the authorities when it discovered evidence of possible misconduct.

Merrick Garland, the Attorney General of the United States, issued a statement on Wednesday claiming that Linwei Ding was undercoverly working for businesses that were “seeking an edge in the AI technology race” in order to profit himself.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could put our national security at risk,” said Attorney General Garland.

President Christopher Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stated that the alleged acts of Mr. Ding “are the latest illustration of the lengths” that Chinese businesses will go to “to steal American innovation.”

Over the past few years, the United States of America and China have been heavily involved in a contentious trade dispute, with both parties striving to gain a competitive advantage over the other.

As a result of the disagreement, both nations have imposed tariffs on items worth hundreds of billions of dollars that are produced by the other.

Under the administration of Vice President Joe Biden, trade relations have deteriorated, with both parties establishing additional trade barriers, such as limits on the export of computer chips.