McAfee Speaks

John McAfee Is in Guatemala, Suckers

Did Vice betray the antivirus software founder's location through some stray EXIF data?
(Photo: Vice)

(Photo: Vice)

Today, Vice announced that it had managed to track down antivirus king John McAfee after he’d safely escaped Belize while wanted for questioning related to the murder of his neighbor. In smug hipster fashion, the online mag published a post called “We Are With John McAfee Right Now, Suckers,” along with a photo showing Vice editor in chief Rocco Castoro posing sans smile next to a cross-armed Mr. McAfee.

But it turns out that Vice may have forgotten to scrub the EXIF data from the photo they uploaded. In fact, the photo’s geolocation info shows that Mr. McAfee & Co. appear to be seeking safe harbor near Rio Dulce, Guatemala.

Screen shot 2012-12-03 at 4.42.43 PM

*Screenshot: Google Maps)

Vice writes that they’ve spent the past four days with Mr. McAfee, so the photo must have been taken during that timeframe; it’s unclear whether Mr. McAfee is still in that location. The EXIF data indicates that the photo was taken today around 12:26 p.m.

After the discovery hit the web, Mr. McAfee quickly took to his blog to explain the mix-up. He claims that he manipulated the EXIF data to make it appear that they’re in Guatemala, but the effect of the blog post comes off like he’s covering for Vice:

I openly apologize to Vice Magazine for manipulating their recently published photo.  I have been ferocioously put my place by Mr. Rocco for “interfering” with the objectivity of their reporting.  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.

I do not believe that Vice will remain with me further.  Again, my apologies.

Of course, there is a chance that Mr. McAfee did indeed screw over Vice, as it is possible to edit EXIF data. Photographer Robert King said on his Facebook page that “The GEO tag was manipulated…. To keep our location secret…”

But why would Mr. King claim he was in on manipulating the geo tag, when Mr. McAfee wrote a post apologizing for doing it behind Vice’s back, effectively saying their working relationship is over? Additionally, why was the original asset photo deleted from Vice’s website and reuploaded, after being Photoshopped and scraped of the geotag? Seems like a lot of ass covering for something you meant to do in the first place.

Lots o’ questions. Either way, it is now much clearer who the real suckers are.

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com