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McAfee: Photo 'location' leak meant to mislead cops

Antivirus pioneer John McAfee, on the run from police, appears to reveal his location through metadata posted on a magazine's website. Then he says it was intentional disinformation. Then he changes his story again.

John McAfee
Personal photo

Update December 4 at 8:30 a.m. PT: John McAfee posted an update this morning saying the EXIF data were accurate after all, and apologizing for the misleading blog posts yesterday (which have subsequently been deleted).

He wrote: "I apologize for all of the misdirections over the past few days. It was not easy to exit Belize and required many supporters in many countries. I am in Guatemala and will be meeting with Guatemalan officials this morning. If all goes well I will do a press conference tomorrow. Vice Magazine reporters are indeed with me in Guatemala. Yesterday was chaotic due to the accidental release of my exact co-ordinates by an unseasoned technician at Vice headquarters."

The original story from December 3 follows:

The ongoing saga of John McAfee, the tech entrepreneur-turned-fugitive, took a twist today when Vice magazine published a photo that appeared to indicate he had taken refuge in Guatemala.

That deduction was based on the EXIF location metadata associated with the image, which the camera applications with iOS and Android devices include, depending on what privacy settings are configured. Some news organizations, as well as Sophos, seized on that apparent security lapse.

But EXIF latitude and longitude data can easily be modified. Freeware utilities like GeoSetter let you do just that. And that's what McAfee says he did to the photo posted on Vice's website -- waging, in other words, a kind of electronic disinformation campaign without the magazine's permission.

In a blog post this afternoon, McAfee wrote from an undisclosed location:

I openly apologize to Vice Magazine for manipulating their recently published photo... I, for my own safety, manipulated the xif data on the image taken from my cellphone, and created a fake emrgency so that the urgency of movement led, as I knew it would, to the hasty posting on their website. I felt that our tenuous situation demanded action, and that was the action that I chose.

Vice, an alternative magazine with a snarky take on pop culture that delights in not-quite-safe-for-work commentary with titles like "A SEX TRADE SHOW...ON ACID!", posted an article today titled "WE ARE WITH JOHN MCAFEE RIGHT NOW, SUCKERS." (The original photo was subsequently deleted.)

McAfee was one of the pioneers in creating antivirus software and is the founder of the company that bears his name -- but he hasn't had anything to do with the company in more than a decade. He is now on the lam from Belize authorities.

Gregory Faull, McAfee's neighbor, was found last month shot in the back of the head days after he filed a complaint about McAfee -- lodging allegations about McAfee's dogs and the men he hired to provide security -- to municipal officials in Ambergris Caye, a tropical island just off the coast of Belize.

Police have not charged McAfee with any crime and say they want him only for questioning. McAfee fled his home and says he did so because once learning that Faull was dead, he was sure the police would try to blame him for the murder. He says he is innocent and on the run because Belizean authorities are conspiring against him.

According to his blog and the many interviews he's given to news media, McAfee, 67, has been hiding out, disguising himself, while keeping company with a 20-year-old woman. The saga has, at times, taken a bizarre turn: At around the same time that Faull was murdered, someone allegedly poisoned McAfee's dogs. McAfee said he buried himself in sand at one point to evade police.

In the weeks leading up the murder, McAfee had given interviews to reporters from Wired and Gizmodo. He was photographed with shotguns. He boasted about hiring drug kingpins. His home was raided for weapons violations and for manufacturing an antibiotic without a license. No charges were filed in that case.

He had donated a boat to police just weeks before this whole thing started.

McAfee has set up a blog, WhoIsMcAfee.com, to let his fans keep abreast of his life on the lam. A post earlier today said: "I am currently safe and in the company of two intrepid journalist[s] from Vice Magazine...We are not in Belize, but not quite out of the woods yet." The post added that a "double" carrying a North Korean passport under McAfee's name was detained in Mexico and then released.