Home Artificial Intelligence Chinese Spy Nabbed for Swiping AI Secrets from Google: NPR Exclusives

Chinese Spy Nabbed for Swiping AI Secrets from Google: NPR Exclusives

by Gaylord Contreras

In a significant development that sheds light on the ongoing conflict over intellectual property and technological supremacy, a former Google engineer, identified as Linwei Ding, a Chinese national, has been charged with the theft of trade secrets tied to Google’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. According to the Justice Department, Ding was found to have illicitly obtained more than 500 files containing confidential information from the tech giant.

Ding, 38, was apprehended on a Wednesday morning in Newark, California, facing four counts related to the theft of trade secrets. Prosecutors have revealed that while Ding was employed at Google, he also worked clandestinely for two tech firms based in China. This dual employment, particularly in the context of the sensitive nature of the work involved, has raised concerns about the security of proprietary AI technology.

The Attorney General, Merrick Garland, emphasized the government’s stance on such incidents, stating, “The Justice Department will not tolerate the theft of artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies that could put our national security at risk. We will fiercely protect sensitive technologies developed in America from falling into the hands of those who should not have them.”

This case highlights a broader pattern of alleged intellectual property theft by entities associated with China, aiming to bolster the country’s stance as a global leader, potentially at the expense of the US. “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,” remarked FBI Director Christopher Wray. Wray pointed out the detrimental effects such acts of theft could have on American companies, including job losses and the broader implications for economic and national security.

The United States currently holds a pioneering position in the rapidly advancing field of AI, which is anticipated to drastically transform various aspects of life and become an invaluable asset for law enforcement in maintaining public safety. However, the potential misuse of AI technology by adversaries poses a significant threat to national security, a concern that has not gone unnoticed by the Justice Department. In response, measures have been initiated to safeguard critical technological advancements in AI from foreign interference.

Details specified in the indictment against Ding reveal that the stolen trade secrets pertained to Google’s supercomputing data centers and their capacity to train large AI models via machine learning. Ding’s tenure at Google, beginning in 2019 as a software engineer, primarily involved developing software for machine learning and AI applications.

Allegations against Ding include the unauthorized transfer of over 500 unique files containing sensitive information to his personal Google Cloud account, starting in May 2022. Efforts to conceal these activities were reportedly made by first moving the files to the Apple Notes app on his laptop, converting them into PDFs, and then uploading them to his Cloud account.

Furthermore, Ding’s interactions with Chinese technology entities came to light when he was offered the position of chief technology officer at Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology, a firm specializing in AI. In addition to this role, Ding is said to have established his own tech company focused on AI and machine learning, named Zhisuan, without disclosing these affiliations to Google.

The situation escalated when Google detected attempts by Ding to transfer more files to his personal account while in China in December 2023. Following this detection, Ding attempted to resign and subsequently planned a one-way trip to Beijing, sparking an investigation by Google which led to the suspension of his access and the involvement of the FBI in the case. This investigation represents a critical juncture in the ongoing efforts to protect American technological innovations from unlawful appropriation and underscores the complex geopolitical dynamics at play in the global tech industry.


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