The Unexpected Cost of Privacy with John McAfee
To what extremes are you willing to go for complete privacy and security? No one takes privacy as seriously as today’s guest, John McAfee.
John McAfee is known for founding McAfee Antivirus, being a cryptocurrency evangelist and a privacy activist. In this episode, John shares the lengths he goes to protect his own privacy with significant unexpected costs. John lives and plays by his own rules and this interview is no exception. If you are sensitive to profanity, be warned.
Listen on to find out how John maintains his extremely private lifestyle.
- [1:12] – John McAfee begins explaining the precautions he takes to keep his privacy safe by stating that he and his wife do not own cell phones.
- [1:39] – Even with a brand new mobile phone, when you call just three people, a government could find you and John explains how cell phones are susceptible to spyware.
- [2:05] – John also explains that he lives in a faraday cage, which blocks signals from coming in and out of the room. It is also soundproof.
- [2:52] – John also has a very serious VPN that goes through 9 different countries to ensure his privacy.
- [4:41] – While on trips and vacations, John and his wife take many pictures but don’t post them immediately. This keeps people guessing where they actually are at any given time.
- [5:42] – John also adds bogus information to photos that are posted, like varying dates.
- [7:19] – Chris asks John how he feels about Tor and John explains that it was infiltrated by the CIA so it isn’t possible to have any privacy or anonymity.
- [9:13] – If it is advertised at all, it is something that is owned by somebody and there is no privacy there.
- [10:09] – John explains that the only secure email out there is Google and it is also not very secure either.
- [10:37] – Google never trusts anybody. As long as they get their money, they’re happy and they’ll give you what privacy they can, given the constraints of reality.
- [10:58] – If you want any privacy at all, there’s no way to do that other than Gmail.
- [11:40] – John explains that he does not have a bank account or credit cards. He strictly uses cryptocurrency only, including large purchases like homes and cars.
- [12:50] – He is also particular on what cryptocurrency he uses and does not suggest using large or older companies like Bitcoin.
- [14:07] – Bitcoin specifically is easily tracked and can be followed.
- [15:00] – The newer cryptocurrency companies are much better about keeping your information safe and private.
- [17:54] – John explains how when moving from country to country, he has multiple legal passports.
- [19:56] – Because he is frequently recognized when he’s with his wife, they split up when traveling and meet up later. He wears hats, hoodies, various glasses, and due to Covid-19, masks.
- [21:40] – John also makes sure to lie to his friends and family as well so that his location at any given time is not revealed.
- [24:01] – John explains how the costs of good privacy are very steep.
- [25:06] – How important is this level of privacy to the average person? John doesn’t advise this lifestyle for anybody. But for John and his wife Janice, it is critical.
- [25:50] – Striking a balance is tough, specifically if you own a smartphone.
- [27:45] – All this possible tracking done by smartphones is granted access by the actual user. You sign up to be spied on.
- [29:21] – John feels that he has to live the way he does in order to not be silenced by government agencies who don’t want him spreading what he knows to be the truth.
- [31:50] – John founded his computer security company by understanding the reality of the world.
- [34:04] – When asked about Julian Assange, John says, “A hero is someone capable of accomplishing.” John says Assange and Snowden are both very smart but were not prepared.
- [35:41] – John has been arrested 21 times in 11 different countries but because of how he chooses to live in private seclusion, he is free to speak out.
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(This transcript has been censored for language.)
I know that privacy and security are paramount to you and highly valued in your world. I would love to spend some time talking about that. Is that good for you?
You bet. Let’s do it.
I’m curious, what precautions you take when you go online because you’re remaining in incognito mode, so to speak. What do you do to keep yourself safe?
First and foremost, neither myself or my wife, Janice, have telephones—cellphones, at least. These are the universal spy devices. And if you have one—even if you buy a new one—if you call even three people that you called before, and if the government is looking for you, they’re going to find you within five minutes. Plus, the smartphones are susceptible to spyware, which you can get by just cruising on Pornhub or something like that. So we have no phones.
Number two, we are in a Faraday cage where no signals can come in or leave. It’s soundproof because it used to be made out of tin foil. If you go back about a year ago, you’ll see that this room was all tin foil. It got very ugly. The light reflected, and we eventually soundproofed it, putting the soundproofing over, it’s a Faraday cage so that none of my electronic communications, like Wi-Fi or anything else, would get out of this room.
The next thing is we have to have, obviously, a serious virtual private network. Not something like a NordVPN, which you can download from Google for $80 a year. That’s not going to protect you, people. You have to have some very serious VPN. Ours go through nine different countries, starting with Amsterdam, the Netherlands, going on to Vietnam, Russia, and Tierra del Fuego, believe it or not. It’s what makes your communications a little bit laggy sometimes.
Just the normal precautions of any security expert would recommend this information. We give as much disinformation as possible. We will visit a country for a day or two and take 35 photos and publish them on Twitter suggesting we’re in Germany, the South of France, the West Coast of Spain, once Portugal, or three times England, whatever, so that people are continually guessing. You have to be vigilant, and it’s work every day in order to remain hidden.
Yeah. It’s one step or multiple steps well beyond what we would normally tell people of when you’re on vacation: don’t post pictures of your vacation because then everybody knows you’re not home. You’ve got the reverse issue where you’re posting pictures of all over the place at random times so no one knows where you are.
Plus, obviously, we’ll never post a photo of a place that we’ve been while we’re still there. Always a few days after we’ve left we then post the photos. Also, I mean, we do trivial things like bogus the date and time of all of our photos, even when we post them to Twitter. Because even though Twitter, for example, strips the Exif information, that’s information, which is every photo.
Listen, the government can come in with a subpoena and say, “I want to look at those photos before they’re stripped.” So we bogus them up with everything—location, time, and date just to fool with people.
It’s clearly the Eiffel Tower, but it has LA geolocation data and Buenos Aires time zone.
If it’s clearly the Eiffel Tower, it will have the Eiffel Tower location, but it’ll have a date of five days before, a month before, or something of that nature. No, we’re not trying to do the obvious absurdities. I mean it’s the Eiffel Tower…
That is a bit of a giveaway.
If it’s clearly the Eiffel Tower, and we have the location of LA, then they know we’re with them. If it’s clearly the Eiffel Tower, it’s got the location of the Eiffel Tower, and the approximate time for the sun angles and things, we can throw whatever date we want in there, and that’s what we do.
I’ve been doing this my whole life. Are you going to take 1000 people to find and locate me? And even then, I will find out that you’re trying to locate me and getting close. I’ll simply—you know how easy it is for us to move somewhere? We just take our tiles with us and we create another room in another location. Good God almighty.
That is convenient whether you have a tile background or a virtual background, that if you change locations, it’s really hard for anyone to even notice that because it’s the same background regardless.
We use tile because that freaking tinfoil room was echoey.
And it probably doesn’t look particularly great on the eyes.
Oh, it doesn’t, but we did that for four and a half months. All of our videos were in a tinfoil room. People were going, “Are you in a grow room for marijuana?”
So you talked about using your own kind of homegrown VPN solution. What do you think about Tor as for most people or yourself?
It was infiltrated by the CIA many, many years ago, people. You might as well take out advertisements in The New York Times and discuss your private matters there.
Yeah, I’ve always wondered if the CIA or any other clandestine spy organization is actually running a VPN service company themselves in order to monitor their own clients.
Many of them are running their own VPN, and Tor was so infiltrated that it is impossible to have any privacy with Tor—none, zero. There’s no anonymity. You only need to infiltrate 10% of a network like that. How hard is that for an organization with infinite resources? Please, people, wake up. I mean, seriously. Hey, you use Tor? Are you crazy?
No, I don’t use the New York Times for my private communications either. “Hey, Susan. It’s just like calling the New York Times ad office, and I’d like to take out a full-page ad, please.” “Yes, what would you like to say in it?” “Susan, very strict confidence. I’d like to meet you at 10:00 on Friday for a clandestine affair.” Might as well do that, seriously.
A billboard in New York Times Square.
Billboard in Times Square. Tor has zero. Please, people. Good God almighty, why don’t you use ProtonMail? Have you lost your minds? If it is advertised at all and it’s encrypted, it’s owned by the KGB, the CIA, the FBI or somebody. But sure as [censored], no privacy there, I promise you.
Google is about the best part. It’s tragic. But why don’t you try? You can go and buy for $49, I think, a piece of spyware called Read and Verify, which you can now use as a front end to your email so that when people open one of your emails, you get a notification. So-and-so opened it, they were in this location.
Try that with a Google email account—it can’t be done. You can do it on ProtonMail. You can do it with every encrypted email service, but you can’t do it with Google. I’m sorry, people. Wake up. Stop being [censored] just because you don’t like Google and say, “Oh, their email is [censored].” No, it’s the only secure email, and it’s not very secure at that. I’m sorry.
Yeah, I know. On my website, for many years, I’ve had a trace email tool. I remember back in the day, everybody included the IP addresses of the senders and the headers. Everybody trusted everybody in the early days of the internet.
Not Google, though. Google never trusted anybody.
As long as they get their money, they’re happy.
If they get their money, they’re happy. They’ll give you privacy. They can, given the constraints of reality, which are pretty severe these days.
So the best-case scenario for email for consumers is Gmail?
Gmail. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I don’t care how politically incorrect that answer is. If you want any privacy at all, there’s no way to do it other than Gmail. Please, if you don’t believe me, buy the spyware—read, verify, and test it. Test it on ProtonMail. You’ll find out exactly when someone opens your email and where. An IP address and the time. Try it with Gmail, it can’t be done, people. All right.
They actually take as much as they can to respect privacy. They do make some attempt to do that.
Yes, they do. Yes.
So they can monetize it themselves.
I know you’re a huge fan of cryptocurrencies as well. Is that the way, if you’re wanting to remain private, you should do all your payment transactions?
We do not. Janice and I do not have a bank account, do not have a credit card. We don’t have checks to write. We don’t use any money transfer program. Everything is cryptocurrency with us and has been for years. Hundreds of thousands of other people on the planet, likewise, never use anything except cryptocurrency.
If I work for somebody or do a job, you’ve got to pay me on cryptocurrency or I’m not working for you. If you want to sell me something—like a house, a car—you better take cryptocurrency or I’m not buying. There’s nothing you can’t buy with cryptocurrency. Nothing. We purchase houses, cars, bulletproof vests, shoes, food, and clothes—you name it. Everything is available for purchase with cryptocurrency.
I’ll admit, I’m by no means a cryptocurrency expert. But I know—at least I seem to believe—that if you have a wallet ID and people are sending money to and from that, doesn’t at some point someone say, “Hey, I sent John money at this cryptocurrency address.” Saying now that this is you and gaining enough transactions can get an idea of when and where.
Of course, if you’re using a currency like Bitcoin or Ethereum. Bitcoin is old, creaky, and antique. We’re just using the newer privacy coins like Monero. You can say, “I sent money to John at this address.” It doesn’t mean [censored]. You can’t look at that address. With Bitcoin, I know your address. I can look at it and forever see everything that comes in and goes out. All I need is your address.
But if you say, “I sent John money at this address.” It doesn’t mean [censored]. You still don’t know what’s in there. You don’t know what my transactions are. I just sent money to John. Who cares what the address is if he says it’s John, right?
But with Bitcoin, I suppose with enough transaction history, if you learned different restaurants are using these Bitcoin addresses, you can figure out where a person is based on that—for Bitcoin, that is?
You don’t even need that. All you need is your address. You’ve got your address and I can follow you forever and see everything that comes in and out of your account. It’s like going to the bank when a plumber comes to your house and you pay him $40 to fix your sink. And he takes that check to the bank and says, “I got a check from John McAfee. Please, from now on tell me. And first of all, while I’m here, tell me how much money Mr. McAfee has.” And they go, “Certainly, he’s got this much.” “Thank you very much. From now on, please inform me whenever anything comes into his account or leaves it. And they go, “Yes, of course.” That’s Bitcoin, people. It’s old, antique. It’s useless. The newer cryptocurrency. Oh, yes, they’re awesome.
They respect privacy, whereas everything else is just broadcast.
Everything else that the old technologies are just broadcast. You might as well put all your financial transactions in the New York Times advertising section.
That’s pretty scary. I think most people just have this mentality of assuming, “Well, it’s cryptocurrency currency. I’m sure there’s privacy taken into account.”
People are thinking Bitcoin is cryptocurrency.Bitcoin may be in the market a huge percentage, but in actual use, nobody uses it anymore. They used to be the only coin used. Now nobody does. It’s useless. It says the market hasn’t caught up with it. People who buy and sell have no clue what they’re buying and selling anymore.
But I think that’s probably true of most investors, regardless of whether that’s cryptocurrency or anything.
Anything else. That’s right. “Oh, hey, I hear this is a hot thing. Let’s buy this stock.” Maybe that’s it, I don’t know. Those who know, go, “Keep away from Bitcoin because when it does collapse, it will be huge.”
It will be quite brutal, and that’s a challenge. It’s perceived value as opposed to actual value.
It has no actual value anymore. None. Try to find anybody who will take one. I won’t. For example, I just put on my Twitter account a few hours ago, I’m auctioning off my COVID-19 masks, which are all made from women’s underwear. Janice, first of all, wears them to stretch them and soften them and then I put them on for a few days. Someone goes, “Why don’t you auction those things?” We’ll try it. My first auction got a huge number of bids. The number of bids, [censored] me. Someone bid $9000 for them.
Oh my goodness.
They can’t pay in cryptocurrency, so we throw them away. We do have a bid for $4000 payable in private. […] don’t take bitcoin out of there, honestly. So crazy. But in any case, that’s it. We’ve gotten hundreds of bids, all crypto. Well, not all. Like 60% crypto. Some people who are not quite following my account are close enough to understand you’re not going to be able to pay me with your credit card, people, or a bank transfer, all right.
It will rain down money from the heavens.
Yes, in any case. It’s coming along. People are starting to understand it.
When you move from country to country, how do you maintain your privacy while you’re in transit, if you can disclose such things?
Well, I mean, that’s how much you’re going to publish on for many times. The downside of multiple passports, all legal, by the way. All perfectly legal. If anybody understands international travel well enough, they will know, for example, if you have a Chinese passport—I mean, it’s got to be printed in English somewhere for an English-speaking country or whatever region to read your name.
The Chinese name is going to be in Chinese characters. So my name—John McAfee—is not my name in China. My last name in Chinese, I’m not going to tell you the actual name. My name in Chinese is Ma Jia Fe. That’s not McAfee, is it? There’s no computer in the world that can connect that passport with me, all right. And the real name is written in Chinese characters, which in Chinese characters is something equivalent to Ma Jia Fe. I speak in Chinese, by the way.
There are thousands of these little techniques you can use to cross borders as a completely different person legally without breaking any laws, do you understand? I’m John McAfee […]. There’s a way to do it. I have figured it out.
Do people recognize you when you’re traveling?
Unfortunately, quite a bit. However, when we travel, here’s the real problem. It’s not just me. I travel with Janice, by the way. A beautiful young black woman half my age. Really, that’s the […]. If we are really worried about regulation, we’ll split up—not days apart, but a few minutes apart. Maybe get off the airplane first and go on. “I’ll meet you at the gate so-and-so at 7:30.” “Okay, cool.”
That way, it cuts the recognition by 95%. Then I usually wear glasses, I wear a hat like a baseball cap backward, and a hoodie on top of that. Sometimes with a big […], and a scarf around my face. And now the world…coronavirus…well [censored] me. Thanks.
People get upset with you because you don’t have your face covered.
Yeah. So now, what a piece of cake is that. You put me in a baseball hat, a hoodie, much bigger glasses than this, and a mask. I’m not recognizable. I am sorry. Not by the greatest face recognition system on this planet, I’m not.
Are there other aspects of privacy that people don’t think about that you think about, or you think people should be thinking more about it?
Friends—this is the biggest problem. No matter how careful you are, how smart you are, we all have friends. Sometimes those friends are not quite as aware of reality as we are. Unfortunately, we have to lie to our friends as well as the public. Why? Because you just don’t know. “Oh, hey. John and Janice, they’re in Belarus.” “They are?” “Was I not supposed to say that?” “No.” Do you understand?
This is what you don’t realize—the severity of privacy, how hard it is these days. You cannot tell your family, your brother, your sister, your mother, your father, your children, and your best friend. The kid that grew up with you, went to jail with you, maybe. The guy who would help you bury a body. You can’t be honest with them anymore about where you are or when you are, and people don’t understand this part. This is where people [censored] that up because you can’t tell anybody.
Now, the second hardest thing, because the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, their analysts are not stupid. So you have to somehow pretend that you are somewhere without being overt about it. You have to have a compatriot to say in their Twitter account, “I saw you in Portugal.” And then you may call this…“Oh, no, no, no. It wasn’t me. It was…” [censored] like that the analyst doesn’t have a formula for. Do you understand?
What they are all profiling was John McAfee, 75, he knows this, he knows that, and he knows this. He won’t understand this. He won’t understand that. He won’t go there. Well, those are the things I have to do—all the things that my profile tells the world I won’t do. That’s what I have to do, and I have to make a huge effort to convince those after me that I am somewhere trying desperately not to be discovered like, “He’s in Portugal. We know he’s there because he’s so guaranteed not there.”
“Someone said they saw him there.” “Oh, no, I’m not here.” Go to my Twitter account and it’s peppered with that. Those are the other things, but basically, people, you cannot trust anybody. Not that they would turn on you, not that your parents would try to harm you, no. They’re just stupid. I’m sorry. Will let slip in conversation or in some way, “Oh, John and Janice went to a Russian wrestling ring last week.” Well, thank you very much, kids.
It sounds like the cost of good privacy is very, very steep.
They are people. Is it worth it to you or not? Most people, it’s not worth it. In fact, I would not advise my lifestyle to anybody. I really would not, however, how important is your privacy? For Janice and me, it’s critical, extremely, and therefore, we have to go through those things, which most people simply don’t think about.
Without knowing other people, what is a good balance for most people? Most people are not going to take the extremes that you have because of your situation. But other people—they want to have some privacy.
I don’t know what to tell you. I mean, you’ve got no privacy if you have a smartphone. I can tell you that. If you have a smartphone, forget privacy. You will never have it. It’s designed to do one thing: spy on you. Not for some insidious evil purpose, no. So they can sell you [censored]. Got to know where you are, who you’re with, have you been there before? What’s your favorite food? Seems to be Japanese or there’s a Japanese restaurant around the corner. I wonder if they will pay $0.85 to send an ad to you to eat there?
We know your nearest shoe store. It’s been seven months since you bought shoes. So we noticed you bought brown loafers last time. There are some black loafers right across the street. No, [censored] me. You know this is true. If any of you ever Googled something and then 30 seconds later gone to Facebook and had an ad for the very thing, you have Googled, good God.
It’s not there designed to [censored] you over; it’s designed just to sell you [censored]. However, every single facility in that phone that is used by marketers to sell you [censored] is used by the underbelly of society—either hackers, thieves, the gangsters, the CIA—the worst of all gangsters, the FBI—second worst, (or what have you) use those facilities in a snap. They’re designed to be used to track you.
And for most people, it’s voluntary.
Well, of course, it’s voluntary, and when you download an app, it says, “We need to access your contacts.” “Hell, yeah. Sure.” “We need to access your microphone.” “Yeah, not a problem.” “We need to access your camera.” “Not a problem.” If I can access contacts, your microphone, and your camera, I can spy on you and all your friends forever. Do you understand?
No, this is the absurdity. You signed up to be spied on, people. You say “yes.” “May we spy on you?” “Yes.” “Well, how about if we actually turn the camera on if we want?” “Absolutely.” “What if we use the microphone to listen to you?” “Not a problem.” “Well, hey, how about we see who your friends are? Do you mind?” “No, no. Do it.” People, wake up. I don’t know what else to say.
The answer is you have no privacy unless you live like a caveman.
We’re not living like cavemen at all. This is kind of. It used to be a cave that was just lined in tinfoil. Now, it’s a cave that’s more like a cave: dark, spooky, closed. Nevertheless, we have to live this way, people. Not everybody does. If we did not, I would be silenced. I would not be able, my friend, to talk to you like I am talking to you now because do you think the United States government wants me free to say what I am saying about their agencies that invade the lives of U.S. citizens? No, they don’t want me free to say that, and I think it needs to be said, people.
I don’t say it, then who will? Because who else is willing to live like this in order to speak to you about what I know to be the truth? If you’re not in my shoes, then I wouldn’t worry too much. I do not think the government gives a [censored] what kind of pornography you watch on PornHub, who you might be cheating with on your spouse, whether you’re stealing some candy bars at the liquor store. No, I don’t think they give a [censored], and they care far more for insidious things.
What are you thinking? Are your thoughts, actions, and attitudes supportive of the police state that is growing around you or not? That’s important. You say something to a friend like, “We’re turning into a Nazi Germany.” Well, they care about that, and you’re allowed to be picked up. You don’t think so? Wake up, people. It’s happening around you today all over.
You speak out, what’s the first thing that’ll happen? They’ll shut down your social media, or restrict it so you can’t say certain things. Because number one, if we want to disappear your sorry [censored], we don’t want the world watching while we’re doing it. We’ll shut down your social media. People will forget about you, forget you even exist, and then you don’t exist.
Am I a paranoid, conspiracy theorist? I don’t give a [censored] what you call me. I’m 75 years old, I founded the world’s largest computer security company, not by understanding the reality of the world, but by understanding the reality of this world and I’m telling you what I believed to be the truth. You may call me as you wish. I could give a flying [censored], quite frankly.
Do you consider someone like Julian Assange a hero for disclosing?
Obviously, he was on our side. I think he made some critically poor decisions, else he’d still be free. Listen, if Julian Assange and Edward Snowden had called me, spend five minutes, saying, “Mr. McAfee, what do you think I should do?” I’d go, “You called the right person.” He would have never gone to London, never would have had to hole up in that embassy.
If Edward Snowden had called me before he left Hong Kong for Russia, I’d go, “Dude, do not go on that plane. You’re in Hong Kong, you say? Perfect. Here are five telephone numbers of people on the backstreets of Hong Kong who could use your talents. Get you a new name. Get a couple of Hong Kong beautiful young girls, live in a boat forever, and marry them both if you want. They don’t give a [censored] about Hong Kong, and live your life.”
No, he hopped on a plane, not to Russia, but to Ecuador, which had to go through Russia. What idiot does that? What happened? He was not allowed to leave Russia. He’s not being tortured, I’m sure, and probably treated well, but it’s cold in Russia. And the winter, people, I’m just saying. No, they are both heroes. They were just simply unprepared because I think a hero is someone capable of accomplishing. A patriot that should have stayed home perhaps, who tries and fails because Julian Assange could have unwound the nightmare happening around us now had he been able to stay free.
Edward Snowden, had he been allowed to go to Ecuador where they would have given him a great deal of freedom, could have told us more. But now, the only person that Edward Snowden can tell is Russia. Do you understand why they kept him? They don’t want the rest obviously knowing. I’m sure they grill him two hours a day, every day, seven days a week. That’s the tragedy. Had they been prepared, both brilliant people.
Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. I worked for Booz Allen and Hamilton in 1978,1979, and 1980—an awesome company. But I’ve been around the world more times than I can count. I’ve been arrested 21 times in 11 different countries. I know the ropes, which is why I am still free to speak to you. And we’ll never hear from Julian Assange again. The only thing we’ll hear from Edward Snowden is what Russia allows him to tell us. Do you see? Do you see?
Anybody else out there who is skating the edge of this political universe, before you fall off, get in touch with me, because I can save you a great deal of trouble.
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