McAfee, 67, who founded the popular antivirus company that bears his name, has been wanted for questioning by police in Belize since a neighbor turned up dead of a gunshot wound near McAfee’s beach-side home Nov. 11. The troubled tech savant, insisting that he had no role in the shooting, went on the run and has been taunting police by blog, Twitter and occasional podcast.
Authorities couldn’t catch him. But a hacker called Simple Nomad learned McAfee’s location shortly after journalists posted an image of him from his supposedly secret locale under the provocative headline, “We are with John McAfee right now, suckers.”
Embedded in that image, apparently taken by one of the journalists, was the sort of detailed data routinely collected by smartphone cameras and often transmitted along with images wherever they go — on e-mail, Facebook, online photo albums and, it turns out, to Vice magazine’s Web site.
Simple Nomad, who declined to give any identifying personal details in an e-mail interview, examined the underlying data and quickly learned that McAfee’s image emanated from an iPhone 4S at the following location: “Latitude/longitude: 15° 39’ 29.4 North, 88° 59’ 31.8 West,” at 12:26 p.m. Monday.
That put McAfee in a Guatemalan villa south of the border with Belize. Simple Nomad tweeted the information, generating significant online buzz. McAfee tried to cover his tracks with a blog post in which he claimed to have faked the iPhone data to fool police, but he came clean Tuesday morning with another post acknowledging that he was in Guatemala and soon would be meeting with a lawyer.
“Yesterday was chaotic due to the accidental release of my exact co-
ordinates by an unseasoned technician at Vice headquarters,” McAfee wrote in a short item posted with an image of the blue-and-white flag of Guatemala. “We made it to safety in spite of this handicap. I had to cancel numerous interviews with the press yesterday because of this and I apologize to all of those affected.”
Simple Nomad was in no mood to gloat about the detective work, saying by e-mail, “McAfee’s mistake was talking to the Vice guys, so ultimately his ego is the culprit.”
But the case resonated with privacy experts, who long have feared that most owners of smartphones have little idea how much information they collect and how easily it can be shared. Hackers can steal it. Police in many situations can review it for potential evidence. And users can accidentally transmit it, sometimes without even knowing they have done so.