In a year full of political, economic and social troubles, tech-dropout-turned-fugitive John McAfee dominated headlines when his bizarre life became global news after being suspected of murder in Belize. The needless attention has distracted scores of tech enthusiasts, solution providers and the company that continues to bear his name.
Eugene Kaspersky, the boisterous founder and CEO of antivirus company Kaspersky Lab ZAO, once quipped the difference between he and rival Symantec Corp. is he owns and is intimately involved in his company. “There is no Mr. Symantec, but there is a Mr. Kaspersky,” he said.
Unfortunately for McAfee Inc., the security software unit now owned by Intel Corp., there is a Mr. McAfee -- and he has been nothing short of an embarrassment this year. If there were an award for “Overblown Story of the Year,” it would go to this tech dropout and the media outlets giving his travails ink.
In September, John McAfee sprung onto the global stage when authorities in Belize sought to question him in the murder of his neighbor. Rather than submitting to government questioning, he fled. He made it to Guatemala, where he reportedly had a heart attack after being taken into custody for entering the country illegally. He was deported and is in Miami.
Unlike other fugitives, John McAfee hasn’t shrunk from public attention. He started a blog to vent allegations about the Belize government having a vendetta against him and proclaimed his innocence. Now, he's expressing a desire to move to the United Kingdom to restart his life with his two young girlfriends.
Through the John McAfee melodrama, McAfee --t he company -- has been mute on the topic. Insiders say executives and employees are under strict orders to avoid discussions and make no official comment. And they have good reason: John McAfee has no association with the company.
John McAfee sold the company that bears his name in 1994, long before the Internet explosion, the antivirus wars with Symantec Corp., the branching into related technologies, the formation of Network Associates, or the acquisition by Intel. In fact, McAfee the company bears little resemblance to the business John McAfee sold nearly 20 years ago.
Yet, with every twist in this four-month tale of John McAfee, the company has been dragged into the conversation. McAfee has not been a software entrepreneur in some time; he spent most of his $100 million fortune and has little but the clothes on his back. Yet, the media insists on painting John McAfee as an integral part of the McAfee brand and technology. McAfee’s current co-presidents Mike DeCesare and Todd Gebhart told CNN they've been monitoring the situation and acknowledge it hasn’t been good for the company.
"Look, we're not happy it's going on," DeCesare told CNN. "We are happy that it seems to be coming to an end."
And end is where this story should be. John McAfee is a man living on the fringe of a self-constructed exile that’s real because of his own actions. It has all the trappings of a sensational story -- murder allegations, a defiant suspect with a famous name living an alternative lifestyle and, of course, a willing press corps chasing every meaningless detail. Meanwhile, nary a word has been written about George Faull, John McAfee’s neighbor who lost his life in a senseless act of violence.
If there is a candidate for the most overblown, non-story of the year, John McAfee’s faux plight is the clear choice.