Exclusive: Chinese ex-Google employee stole company's AI secrets while moonlighting at Ant Group affiliate

Staff Writer, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: Google, Beijing Rongshu

Former Googler Linwei Ding is accused of stealing AI secrets from the US tech giant while secretly working for an Ant Group affiliate just months before Ant announced its own AI division.

Ding, a former Google engineer and a Chinese national was charged by the US Department of Justice on March 6. The DoJ accused him of exfiltrating hundreds of Google's classified AI files while secretly working at two Chinese companies including Ant Group-invested Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology Company.

The Ant Group connection

It is reported that one of the companies that Ding secretly worked for while stealing Google's AI files was Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology Company. Corporate records show that one of Rongshu's principal shareholders is Ant Group-controlled Shanghai Yunju Venture Capital.

A 2022 Shanghai Securities News article covered Ant Group's investment in Rongshu. The article said it was discovered that Beijing Rongshu Lianzhi Technology underwent a change in its business registration on February 28, 2022 and that the new shareholder, Shanghai Yunju Venture Investment, was an affiliate of Ant Group.

Shanghai Yunju Venture Capital's CEO is Ji Gang. Ji is Vice President of Strategic Investment and President of Corporate Development at Ant Group.

38-year-old Ding worked at Google as a software engineer from 2019. He was responsible for developing software deployed in Google's supercomputing data centers and therefore had access to confidential documents.

The US Justice Department's indictment shows that Ding's job responsibilities included the development of software that allowed GPUs to function efficiently for machine learning, AI applications, or other purposes required by Google or Google Cloud clients. In his role Ding was authorized to access confidential Google information related to hardware infrastructure, the software platform, and the AI models and applications they supported, the indictment said.

Ding began uploading Google's confidential information from Google's network onto a personal Google Cloud account on May 21, 2022, and continued periodic uploads until May 2, 2023, the indictment said. In total, Ding uploaded more than 500 unique files containing Google Confidential Information, including the trade secrets, the indictment added.

The perks

Beginning June 13, 2022, one month after the secret uploading activity started Ding received several emails from Beijing Rongshu's CEO Yuan Ye. Yuan offered Ding the position of Chief Technology Officer (CTO), with a monthly salary of CNY100,000 (approximately US$14,800 in June 2022), plus an annual bonus and company stock, per the indictment.

Rongshu's business involves the development of acceleration software designed for machine learning on GPU chips. The company touted its development of AI federated learning platforms, which were systems for training AI models using decentralized data sources for greater data privacy.

Ding traveled to China on October 29, 2022, and remained there until March 25, 2023. During that period, he was still employed by Google.

Beginning in or about December 2022, while in China, Ding participated in investor meetings to raise capital for Rongshu. At an April 17, 2023 meeting, Rongshu's CEO told investors that Ding was the company's CTO.

Secret trips to China

Ding never informed Google about his affiliation with Rongshu nor did Google know that Ding had traveled to China.

On December 29, 2023, Google investigators reviewed surveillance footage from the entrance to the Google building where Ding worked and discovered another Google employee scanning his work ID. When questioned the employee told investigators that Ding asked him to periodically scan the ID so it appeared as if Ding was still attending in the office while he was traveling.

On December 14, 2023, Ding booked a one-way ticket from San Francisco to Beijing on a China Southern Airlines flight scheduled to depart on January 7, 2024, the indictment alleged. On December 26, 2023, he sent an email to his manager, resigning from Google.


On December 29, 2023, Google learned that Ding had represented his Chinese companies at an investor conference in Beijing on November 24, 2023. Google subsequently suspended his network access and remotely locked his Google notebook.

Google checked Ding's network activity history and discovered his unauthorized uploads from May 2022 through May 2023. On January 13, 2024, the FBI executed an additional search warrant for the contents of Ding's Google accounts.

One account contained more than 500 unique files containing Google's confidential information, including the trade secrets relating to the infrastructure and software platform that allow Google's data centers to train large AI models. The secrets also contained information about the architecture and functionality of GPU and TPU chips and systems, the software that allows the chips to communicate and execute tasks, and the software that orchestrates thousands of chips into a supercomputer capable of executing at the cutting-edge machine learning and AI technology, the indictment said.

Ant Group announced the establishment of its own AI innovation research and development department, NextEvo, led by Xu Peng in January 2024. Before joining Ant Group, Xu worked at Google for 11 years.