John McAfee, founder of the eponymous antivirus software company, is wanted in Belize in connection with the murder of American Gregory Faull, according to news accounts. The San Pedro police department is said to be actively searching for McAfee, who has gone missing.
This episode is focusing a very public spotlight on the downward, highly destructive spiral McAfee reportedly has been on for years — a cycle that is said to include drugs, guns, prostitution and a lot of violence. His early days as a tech luminary — he was one of the first people to design antivirus software and to create a virus scanner — are clearly long gone, never to reemerge.
The details about Faull and McAfee first came to light via an exclusive article in Gizmodo, which reported tensions had been growing between the two men for some time. Faull recently filed a complaint against McAfee alleging that McAfee had fired off guns. There was also an ongoing dispute about the dogs McAfee kept, which had been poisoned. Faull was found dead from a gunshot wound to his head.
In an interview with Wired.com, McAfee professed his innocence of the murder and added another touch of drama to the already-dramatic events: He said he saw the police coming for him and hid by burying himself in the sand with a cardboard box over his head to allow air. He added that he was afraid of being killed while in custody, which was why he went into hiding. He also offered this theory: Whoever killed Faull really meant to kill him instead.
“They got the wrong house,” he told Wired.
Strong Tech Pedigree
For those who haven’t kept tabs on McAfee over the years, his current circumstances are a shocker, given his impeccable tech bona fides.
McAfee was a programmer in NASA’s Institute for Space Studies in New York City from 1968 to 1970, according to Wikipedia.
From there it was onward and upward: He worked at Univac, Xerox, Computer Sciences Corp. and Lockheed. In 1987, McAfee founded McAfee Associates, which is still a major player in the online security market as a wholly owned Intel subsidiary.
The McAfee Brand
It is fair to wonder how these events — now making international headlines — will impact the McAfee corporate brand.
On one hand, it is hard to imagine how they could have any impact. Though he founded the company, John McAfee has long been divorced from it, noted Scott Testa, director of development for China Project Hope and a former marketing professor at Cabrini College.
“In an odd way, it could wind up even having some positives for the product line,” Testa told the E-Commerce Times. “After all, what do they say? ‘ There’s no such thing as bad publicity.'”
The events could wind up evoking feelings of familiarity with the McAfee brand among consumers, even after this drama recedes into the background, he suggested.
“I really don’t think there will be negative ramifications from a brand perspective,” Testa said, although “you can bet that Intel will do whatever it has to to disassociate itself from what is happening.”
A name change could be in the company’s future.
No Connection – but Just Wait
It is true that most people don’t connect John McAfee with the AV software in the way that, say, Steve Jobs was seen as the face of Apple, David Johnson, principal with Strategic Vision, told the E-Commerce Times.
“But that could change depending on how much play this story gets,” he added.
Right now, the McAfee story is sharing the spotlight with Gen. David Petraeus, the fiscal cliff, and the aftermath of the election, Johnson pointed out.
It is hard to imagine how these stories could be overshadowed by McAfee, but one never knows.
“Where it could also hurt,” noted Johnson, “is with investors and the financial media.”