John McAfee is back in the technology game.
Should he be trusted?
McAfee is living in Portland, Ore., nearly a year after fleeing Belize to avoid questioning about the murder of a neighbor. He still insists he had nothing to do with the gunshot killing. "Belize is the murder capital of the world," he said this week. "It's a very violent, very dangerous place."
Since returning stateside, McAfee has surfaced rarely. Three months ago, he posted a racy video on YouTube mocking his former anti-virus software company. Last week he had to respond to a false report that he had died of an overdose in Las Vegas. McAfee said the hoax was not a publicity stunt on his part, and that he spent a lot of time frantically contacting friends who believed he was dead.
"That's not a fun thing," he said. "I mean, I'm a prankster, but that's hardly a prank."
Now he's back in Silicon Valley, taking meetings, speaking at tech events and promoting new ventures.
"When I'm idle," he told CNBC, "I get in trouble. Even when I'm not idle I sometimes get in trouble."
The park where his interview took place was near the Ecuadorean Consulate, where McAfee had spent the morning. He said he has a place in Ecuador and might want to visit, but not stay.
"I'm not going back to the jungle," he said. "I enjoyed it for a while. I think cities are more my thing now."
This weekend, McAfee will speak at C2SV, a tech and music event in Silicon Valley. It will be his first professional event of that nature since returning to the U.S., and McAfee plans to unveil a new type of communication technology product he's developing. The only hint he would give away ahead of time is that the product will be some sort of localized networking platform.
"See these people wandering around the park here? If they were all connected in a way where within 50 feet, 100 feet ... you could all be communicating, and as you walked, your friend set would constantly change," he said.
McAfee said he is self-funding the venture and meeting privately with potential technology partners in Palo Alto, Calif. The new project will cost him "in the seven figures," though he claims not to know his exact net worth.
He does not believe in taking venture capital money, he said, but would anyone want to risk capital on John McAfee given his recent history?
"Everything I've touched turns to gold," he replied. Previous enterprises like Tribal Voice and Zone Labs sold for a total topping $200 million. McAfee said venture capitalists don't care about his real or perceived personality defects. "What they care about is the bottom line, and they'll ask, 'Can this psychopath make us a good bottom line?'"
When asked about the current slew of tech companies more than a quarter century after hitting it big with McAfee anti-virus software, the mercurial software engineer said, "There's really only one hot tech company right now and that's Google ... the owner of the world's information is the ruler of the world."
He doesn't blame companies like Google for handing over information to the National Security Agency. "They have guns. Google does not," he said.
McAfee calls privacy a right, and he predicts there will be new software created to shield citizens from prying government eyes. "We're not much different from Hitler's Germany in that respect, in terms of, 'If we want information as a government, we're going to get it,'" he said.
Readers of TechWeek recently gave McAfee the most votes in a poll about who should be the next CEO of Microsoft.
He found the results humorously baffling, but if he was CEO of the struggling company, he said: "I would fire almost everybody ... (Microsoft) has become archaic in its thinking, and it's because for so long, there was only one thinker in the company, and that was Bill Gates. He's a mighty fine thinker, I admit. Not very good socially, I wouldn't want to have dinner with him. However, a fine thinker."
McAfee thinks the most visionary tech leader right now, however, is Kim Dotcom, the man accused by the U.S. government of copyright fraud on a grand scale through his now-shuttered website Megaupload.
"Look at what the man did, for heaven's sake," said McAfee. "He single-handedly collected a double-digit percentage of the Internet traffic. Do you realize how monumental this is?"
Critics and investigators would say Dotcom grabbed that share by stealing content.
"He's a criminal only if you believe the party line that 'If I created it, it is mine' ... content will have to be free eventually," McAfee said.
When asked if a songwriter or movie director shouldn't expect to get paid for his or her creation, McAfee heatedly replied, "Find another way to make money." He said a new paradigm has to be created for compensation.
"We cannot bring the 19th century into the 22nd," he declared. "I'm a software person, I know I want to get paid, too, but I do not expect to get paid in the same way I got paid 30 years ago."
McAfee is not only working on technology products, he is also working on a feature-length documentary. There's a biography in the works being written by imprisoned cocaine kingpin "Boston George" Jung, and Warner Brothers is developing a movie based on McAfee's adventures.
Who would McAfee like to portray him in the movie? Bryan Cranston, who portrays chemistry teacher-turned-drug-lord Walter White in "Breaking Bad."
"I think he would be perfect," he said.
As for McAfee Inc., the company he created and then left, "I don't use the software myself, haven't used it for years."
First published September 20 2013, 11:51 AM