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Former Google Employee Charged With Stealing AI Trade Secrets For Chinese Firms

Ding was responsible for developing the software that was deployed in Google's supercomputing data centers.
Cover Image Source: Google Employee | Getty Images | Cesc Maymo
Cover Image Source: Google Employee | Getty Images | Cesc Maymo

An ex-Google employee has been charged with stealing artificial intelligence trade secrets from the company while also working with two other Chinese companies secretly, as per the Justice Department, per AP News. Linwei Ding, the software engineer was arrested in Newark, California, on four counts of federal trade theft. Each of the counts is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

"Today’s charges are the latest illustration of the lengths affiliates of companies based in the People’s Republic of China are willing to go to steal American innovation," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. "The theft of innovative technology and trade secrets from American companies can cost jobs and have devastating economic and national security consequences," the statement continued.

The Google logo | Getty Images | Chesnot
The Google logo | Getty Images | Chesnot

The case was announced at an American Bar Association conference held in San Francisco by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has often warned about the threat of Chinese economic espionage and national security concerns.

In another statement, Google spokesman, Jose Castaneda says, "After an investigation, we found that this employee stole numerous documents, and we quickly referred the case to law enforcement. We are grateful to the FBI for helping protect our information and will continue cooperating with them closely."

Ding's lawyer has not commented on it as of now. Ding was responsible for developing the software that was deployed in Google's supercomputing data centers. Owing to the nature of his job, he had full access to Google's "hardware infrastructure, the software platform, and the AI models and applications they supported," they said.

He later bagged the position of chief technology officer role for an "early-stage technology company" and started traveling to China quite frequently where he participated in investor meetings. As per reports, Ding owns around 20% of this company's stock. 

It wasn't long before Ding founded his own technology company in the "AI and machine learning industry" as per the statement by the prosecutors. The company reportedly applied to a Chinese-based tech startup and said that they had "experience with Google’s ten-thousand-card computational power platform" and that all they have to do is replicate the technology and make certain changes. They also had plants to develop a computational power platform that was tailor-made "for China's conditions."

Google said that it had been investigating to reveal more of Ding's alleged misconduct and theft. Ding was working as a junior employee, a Google spokesperson told CNN. "We have strict safeguards to prevent the theft of our confidential commercial information and trade secrets,” he said. Ding allegedly uploaded 500 files (many of which contained trade secrets) from his Google-issued laptops to the cloud, by using a multistep scheme that allowed him to "evade immediate detection," as per the U.S. Attorney's Office.


When it comes to AI, Chinese startups have tapped American technology to try and steal data that can help China in the long run. As per FBI Director Christopher Wray, intellectual property theft from China was a danger to U.S. economic and national security and said that it is a "defining threat of this generation."