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Reporter's iPhone photo reveals John McAfee's location

U.S. anti-virus software pioneer John McAfee listens to questions from a journalist in front of the Supreme Court in Guatemala City on Dec. 4, 2012.
U.S. anti-virus software pioneer John McAfee listens to questions from a journalist in front of the Supreme Court in Guatemala City on Dec. 4, 2012.Johan Ordonez / AFP - Getty Images file

On Wednesday, the former anti-virus software magnate John McAfee — on the run from officials in Belize — surfaced in Guatemala City to seek political asylum. Before he had a chance to announce this news on his personal blog, his location was revealed by a photo which included hidden geographical data.

The photo was posted by Vice magazine editor-in-chief Rocco Castoro and photographer Robert King, who are traveling with McAfee and documenting his attempts to evade questioning in relation to a murder investigation in which he is described as a "person of interest." The victim, 52-year-old Gregory Faull, was McAfee's neighbor. According to Reuters, McAfee denied involvement in the incident and said that he would not turn himself in for questioning.

Washington Post's Craig Timberg explains that a Twitter user who goes by the name "Simple Nomad" was among the first to call attention to the fact that a photo posted by the Vice team included details of their location. "Check the metadata in the photo," he tweeted, linking to a post on Vice's website. The photo shows a smiling McAfee standing next to another man.

After media outlets began calling attention to the photo with McAfee's location, the 67-year-old "tried to cover his tracks with a blog post in which he claimed to have faked the iPhone data to fool police," Timberg explains. But by Tuesday morning, McAfee wrote another post, this time admitting that the metadata was correct.

"I apologize for all of the misdirections over the past few days," McAfee wrote. "It was not easy to exit Belize and required many supporters in many countries. I am in Guatemala and will be meeting with Guatemalan officials this morning." He blames the "accidental release of [his] exact coordinates" on an "unseasoned technician at Vice headquarters." He adds that he and the Vice team have "made it to safety in spite of this handicap."

When asked about the incident, a Vice spokesperson told NBC News that the publication's team "has been traveling with John McAfee for the past six days, documenting his bizarre, freaky and consistently confusing journey." He added that the publication's website would "continue to release exclusive video footage of McAfee on the run."

McAfee — the Intel-owned security software group, that is — is distancing itself from its namesake. "McAfee hasn’t been associated with John McAfee for approximately 20 years," a spokesperson told NBC News. "I don't know any more about him than what is on Wikipedia. I never knew him as a leader, nor did any of my colleagues at McAfee."

McAfee founded the software company in the late 1980s, only to sell of his stake in the company in the mid-1990s, after it went public in 1992, according to a report in the New York Times. (The sale brought him about $100 million, but by 2009, says the Times, McAfee was worth about $4 million.) McAfee itself was acquired by Intel in 2010.

After leaving the technology world, McAfee became an expatriate, spending his time in places such as the Caribbean island of Ambergris Cay, where he lived for about four years.

Metadata, occasionally described as "data about data," is the tiny bit of info that is attached to media files such as photos. It can include details such as what type of camera was used to take a photo, GPS data and more. Because of their built-in GPS functionalities, smartphones generally include the longitude and latitude of the spot where a photo was snapped, unless deactivated by the user.

Security experts often warn about the dangers of "geotagging" (and suggest said deactivation), but Facebook, Apple iPhoto and other photo-centric services and apps use it to show where, on a map of the world, you have been. On the slightly shadier side, there are apps which instantly gather all of the geographical data associated with a person's online presence.

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