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Former Google Software Engineer Charged with Stealing AI Trade Secrets for Chinese Companies

Linwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, a former Google software engineer, has been charged in the United States with theft of trade secrets related to artificial intelligence (AI) while clandestinely working for two Chinese companies. The California indictment, encompassing four charges, led to Ding’s arrest on Wednesday. The Chinese national is accused of pilfering over 500 confidential files, with potential penalties of up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count if convicted.

Ding, who joined Google in 2019, allegedly focused on developing software for the infrastructure of Google’s supercomputing data centers, pivotal for hosting and training large AI models. According to the indictment, Ding initiated the unauthorized uploading of information stored in Google’s network to a personal Google account in May 2022, a practice that persisted for a year.

Simultaneously, Ding spent several months working in China for Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology, a tech startup that offered him $14,800 per month to serve as its Chief Technology Officer. Additionally, he founded his own tech firm, Shanghai Zhisuan Technology, with a focus on AI and machine learning, assuming the role of CEO.

Prosecutors contend that Ding failed to disclose his affiliations with these Chinese companies to Google. The indictment reveals that he applied to a China-based organization for assistance in developing his business, presenting it at an investor conference in China in November 2023. Upon returning to the US, Ding booked a one-way ticket to Beijing, resigned from Google on December 26, and subsequently faced suspicion from the company after revelations about his activities at the conference.

Google, which promptly alerted authorities upon discovering evidence of alleged wrongdoing, emphasized its stringent safeguards against the theft of confidential information and trade secrets. US Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that Ding sought personal enrichment by covertly aiding companies in the AI technology race, emphasizing the Justice Department’s commitment to preventing the theft of advanced technologies with potential national security implications.

FBI Director Christopher Wray characterized Ding’s alleged actions as another instance of Chinese companies going to great lengths to steal American innovation. The charges come amid heightened tensions in US-China relations, marked by a trade battle and both countries imposing tariffs on each other’s goods. Trade relations have further deteriorated under the Biden administration, with new barriers, including restrictions on computer chip exports. The ongoing dispute underscores the strategic importance of emerging technologies like AI in the global geopolitical landscape.

Source: BBC

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