Former Google worker arrested for allegedly stealing AI secrets for China

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Google sign

A former Google engineer arrested this Wednesday, March 6, in Newark (California, United States) for allegedly stealing confidential company information on artificial intelligence (AI). According to the leaked report, the man is accused of selling trade secrets to benefit rivals in China.

Google has been working on the development of AI for years and is one of the most advanced technology companies in the sector. Their new large language model (LLM), Gemini, is an example of all the effort they are putting into it. It is not the only one involved in the business and the competition is becoming stronger, so its investigations are behind closed doors to avoid copies.

However, it seems that the technology company had an infiltrator from Chinese rivals among its workers and, years later, he has been arrested. Was Linwei Ding (38 years old), from the Asian country, who was hired by Google in 2019.

They ‘opened the doors’ to business secrets for the man, since he could access cloud storage accounts from his Google laptop. According to the indictment, Ding took the opportunity to steal AI “building block” documents that Google was developing and shared them, benefiting Asian competition.

Ding worked in Chinese companies

During his time at Google, Ding was also at two technology companies in his country: Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology and Shanghai Zhisuan Technology. From the first, he became technology director; and the second was founded by him.

Google never knew that its former employee was related to these Chinese brands, according to the accusation. Now, the investigation carried out by the American multinational believes that Ding stole trade secrets about chip architecture specifications and about the software design for “tensor processing units” and “graphics processing units.”

a person with a computer

What is Ding facing for his Google leak?

In total, the former engineer has been charged with four counts of theft of trade secrets and, if convicted, could be sentenced to a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Additionally, each charge could result in a fine of up to $250,000 (which is equivalent to 229,300 euros).

Google sources have clarified in American media that they carried out an exhaustive investigation and suspect that Ding stole more than 500 files with commercial and confidential secrets about AI.

The time that passed until his arrest

Ding began working for Google in 2019. However, it is suspected that he began uploading the company’s confidential documents to his personal accounts later, namely from May 2022 to May 2023.

The arrest occurred this week, in March 2024, almost a year after the former Chinese Google engineer stopped publishing the trade secrets he had collected in the past. If the accusations are true, he could have benefited the development of AI in private companies in China with the results of years of work by the American firm.

On the matter, Attorney General Merrick Garland stated in a statement that “the Department of Justice will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could endanger” its national security. For that reason, if he is found guilty, Ding will pay dearly.

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Abraham
Expert tech and gaming writer, blending computer science expertise