A Google engineer was accused of stealing artificial intelligence trade secrets for China

a A federal grand jury has indicted a Google engineerLinwei Ding, also known as Leon Ding, was charged with stealing trade secrets about Google's AI chip software and hardware on March 5, before he was arrested Wednesday morning in Newark, California. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement that Ding “stole from Google more than 500 confidential files containing AI trade secrets while secretly working for China-based companies seeking to gain an edge in the AI ​​technology race.”

Much of the stolen data allegedly revolved around Google's tensor processing unit (TPU) chips. Google's TPU chips power many AI workloads and, in collaboration with Nvidia GPUs, can train and run AI models like Gemini. The company also offered access to the chips through partner platforms such as Hugging Face.

Photo: Ministry of Justice

Software builds for both the TPU v4 and v6 chips, hardware and software specifications for the GPUs used in Google's data center, and builds for Google's machine learning workloads in the data centers are among the allegedly stolen files.

The government accuses Deng of transferring those files to a personal Google Cloud account between May 2022 and May 2023.

He allegedly did this “by copying data from Google source files to the Apple Notes application on a Google-issued MacBook laptop,” and then converting them from Apple Notes to PDF files to avoid detection by Google’s “data loss prevention systems.”

The government says that less than a month after the file theft began, a Chinese machine learning company called Rongshu offered him a position as chief technology officer, traveled to China for five months to raise money for the company, and then founded and led a machine learning company. A startup named Zhisuan, all while working at Google. He resigned from Google in December 2023 — reportedly booking a one-way ticket to Beijing scheduled to depart two days after the expiration date — after the company began asking him about his uploads.

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The DOJ also alleges that in December 2023, he allegedly pretended to be at Google's US office by having another employee scan his badge at the door while he was actually in China. Deng has been charged with four counts of theft of trade secrets, so he faces up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count if convicted.

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