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Google Engineer Steals AI Trade Secrets: FBI Director says China Responsible for Stealing “American Innovation” 

Published March 7, 2024 4:14 PM
James Morales
Published March 7, 2024 4:14 PM

Key Takeaways

  • Linwei Ding was arrested on Wednesday and charged with 4 counts of stealing trade secrets.
  • A Chinese national, Ding allegedly collected sensitive commercial information while secretly working for 2 companies based in China.
  • If found guilty, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and fines of up to $1 million.

An ex-Google AI engineer has been arrested for stealing trade secrets from his former employer.

While working at Google, Linwei Ding transferred sensitive commercial information to his personal account, while secretly working for rival Chinese AI companies, the Justice Department alleged on Wednesday, March 6.

Chinese National Caught Stealing AI Secrets

Following Ding’s arrest on Wednesday morning, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department wouldn’t tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies “that could put our national security at risk.”

According to the charges against him, Ding, who is a Chinese national and California resident, stole over 500 confidential files containing AI trade secrets. All the while, he was covertly working for 2 unnamed companies based in China that were “seeking an edge in the AI technology race,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco alleged.

Charged with 4 counts of trade secrets theft, Ding faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine for each count.

American AI Tech Highly Sought After

In recent years, AI research has emerged as among the most closely guarded and fiercely coveted commercial secrets, with American companies frequently targeted by both foreign and domestic rivals.

The latest arrest echoes the case of Xiaolang Zhang, who in 2022 pleaded  guilty to stealing trade secrets from Apple, where he had worked on its now-defunct self-driving car project.

Having departed from Apple, Zhang was on his way to China to work for the electric vehicle manufacturer Xmotors, but he was arrested at the airport before he could leave the US.

According to reports at the time, Zhang was discovered stealing circuit board designs.

Although the exact nature of Ding’s work at Google is classified, his LinkedIn profile indicates his areas of expertise include Natural Language Processing and Convolutional Neural Networks.

The National Security Consequences of Corporate Espionage

Commenting on the recent indictment, FBI Director Christopher Wray said it illustrates the lengths some Chinese companies are willing to go to “steal American innovation.” 

As well as hurting American firms’ commercial prospects, Wray added that such instances of corporate espionage could have “devastating” national security consequences.

A similar observation was recently made by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS), which reported that 2 chip makers in the country were targeted by North Korean hackers.  Concluding that North Korea could be preparing to build its own manufacturing capacity, the agency warned that such semiconductors could potentially be used in high-tech weaponry.

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