A former Google engineer has been arrested for allegedly stealing AI technology from Google while secretly working for two Chinese companies.

According to a statement released by the Justice Department on 6 March, 38-year-old Linwei Ding, who was also known as Leon Ding, was charged with “four counts of theft of trade secrets in connection with an alleged plan to steal from Google proprietary information related to artificial intelligence technology.”

Google TPU data center
Google TPU data center – Google

The unsealed court documents allege that Ding, who is a Chinese national living in Newark, California, stole more than 500 confidential files containing AI trade secrets.

These included information about technology related to the “building blocks of Google’s advanced supercomputing data centers,” designed to support machine learning workloads, and “detailed information about the architecture and functionality of GPU and TPU chips and systems.”

Ding was hired as a software engineer by Google in 2019 and his responsibilities included developing the software deployed by Google in its supercomputing data centers. He began uploading confidential information from Google to his personal Google Cloud account between May 2022 and May 2023.

During that period he was offered the position of CTO at a Chinese AI startup called Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology, flying to China for five months in order to raise funds for the company. He also founded and headed up his own AI company in China called Shanghai Zhisuan Technology. According to the indictment, Ding never informed Google of his affiliation with either company.

The theft was uncovered after Google searched his network activity history following Ding’s resignation from the company in December 2023.

“The theft of innovative technology and trade secrets from American companies can cost jobs and have devastating economic and national security consequences. The FBI will continue its efforts to vigorously pursue those responsible for stealing US companies’ intellectual property and most closely guarded secrets,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray.

If convicted, Ding faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.