Advertisement

Chinese national arrested after allegedly stealing AI trade secrets from Google

A Chinese national was arrested Wednesday in California and charged with allegedly stealing confidential trade secrets from Google's Artificial Intelligence program while secretly working for two AI startup companies based in China, according to a newly unsealed indictment.

Linwei Ding, a 38-year-old resident of Newark, joined Google as a software engineer in 2019 and was tasked with developing the software used by the tech giant in their supercomputing data centers, according to court records.

But prosecutors say three years into the job, he allegedly began secretly stealing confidential trade secrets -- including "the building blocks" of the company's data centers that were used for training AI models to understand language and generate responses to queries, court records show.

Over a roughly year-long span, Ding is alleged to have uploaded more than 500 files with confidential information, all while prosecutors allege he was secretly starting to work for two China-based AI tech startups -- including one he founded himself.

Ding allegedly traveled to China on two separate instances -- October 2022 and November 2023 -- to participate in business meetings and even attend a conference where he pitched his company to prospective investors, according to court records.

Google joins effort to increase transparency online with new digital standard

According to one document obtained by prosecutors, Ding advertised his company's services by specifically citing his experience with Google's supercomputer platform.

"We just need to replicate and upgrade it -- and then further develop a computational power platform suited to China's national conditions," the document said, court records show.

Ding is also alleged to have taken specific steps to avoid being caught by Google, including copying secret files into his Google Cloud by first copying them into his Apple Notes application and then converting them to PDFs, according to court documents.

PHOTO: Google headquarters is seen in Mountain View, CA, Sep. 26, 2022.  (Tayfun Coskun/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Google headquarters is seen in Mountain View, CA, Sep. 26, 2022. (Tayfun Coskun/Getty Images)

In December 2023, Google was alerted to him uploading some files and he was confronted by an internal investigator, court documents show. Ding allegedly told the investigator he uploaded it as evidence of the work he was doing but that he had no intention of leaving the company.

That same week, Ding allegedly had a fellow employee scan his Google access badge at the building three separate times to make it appear as if he was there, prosecutors claim, and soon after booked a one-way ticket to Beijing. He then emailed his resignation to his manager, according to court records, and the company soon after learned of his presentation at the investor conference. The FBI was alerted and secured warrants to search Ding's house and Google Cloud account.

Ding was taken into custody Wednesday morning and faces four federal counts of theft of trade secrets. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison for each count. He did not have an attorney listed on his court docket as of Wednesday afternoon.

Chinese national arrested after allegedly stealing AI trade secrets from Google originally appeared on abcnews.go.com