Fugitive former software mogul John McAfee accidentally gave away his own whereabouts yesterday (Dec. 3) after he let a website post a photo of him with the geolocation metadata still attached.
Vice Magazine, a gonzo-journalism publication based in Brooklyn, put up a story yesterday morning proclaiming, "We Are With John McAfee Right Now, Suckers."
The real sucker turned out to be McAfee himself, founder of the anti-virus software company that bears his name and a person of interest in the recent killing in Belize of his neighbor, a fellow American named Gregory Faull.
The photograph that Vice posted of its reporter with the eccentric entrepreneur was quickly dissected by Twitter user @simplenomad. He examined the image file and discovered it had been taken earlier Monday by an iPhone next to the swimming pool at an upscale resort in Guatemala called Ranchon Mary.
"Check out the metadata in the photo," @simplenomad tweeted. "Oooops."
Once the news was out, Vice scrubbed the data and reposted the image, and McAfee blogged to claim that the metadata had been "manipulated" in order to throw the authorities off his trail. That post has since been taken down.
Today (Dec. 4), McAfee admitted the mistake on his blog, but blamed it on an "unseasoned technician at Vice headquarters."
McAfee's explanation is bogus. As a very tech-savvy person, he should have known that smartphone cameras write the location, date, time and camera settings to the digital image file. If the unmodified image is uploaded to the Web, it's not difficult for a viewer to access that information. [How To Set Your Smartphone's Privacy Settings]
"Vice Magazine reporters are indeed with me in Guatemala. Yesterday was chaotic due to the accidental release of my exact co-ordinates," McAfee wrote on his blog. "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."
McAfee became an international media sensation after Faull's death in mid-November. His whereabouts have become a guessing game, even as he calls reporters in New York and blogs about life on the lam.
A false report Saturday claimed that he'd been captured on the Mexican border, hours before the New York Times posted a magazine-length article detailing his saga.
To turn off geolocation on an iPhone, as Vice's photographer should have, go into Settings --> Location Services.
A master switch lets you turn everything off, but if you choose to leave it on, there are also individual toggle switches for each app that uses location data, including the Camera app and all installed social-networking apps.
To turn off location settings in Android's stock Camera app, open the app and click on the menu, where there's a simple toggle switch for "Store location."
McAfee now claims to be safe and says he has further plans to engage with the press.
"I am in Guatemala and will be meeting with Guatemalan officials this morning," he wrote. "If all goes well I will do a press conference tomorrow."
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