Should we trust John McAfee?

John McAfee is a tech pioneer and successful entrepreneur. He started his career as a software developer and went on to create the first commercial anti-virus program. McAfee founded McAfee Inc. in 1987 and resigned in 1994, selling his remaining shares in the company over time. His net worth is estimated at four million dollars, but that is likely to be (a lot) higher, given that he owns significant amounts of cryptocurrency.

After his resignation, he sporadically popped up in the news and on social media, giving occasional tech-related interviews. At one point, he was accused of a murder that took place in Belize. McAfee is perhaps best known for a rather bizarre YouTube video that went viral.

McAfee is a vocal proponent of cryptocurrencies and freedom of information. He gained notoriety for his bullish claims and ICO promotions. For example, he claimed Bitcoin would reach one million dollars, only to call it later a ‘true shitcoin.’

Ghost coin

McAfee is a prominent advocate for Monero, stating that no significant vulnerabilities are plausible until further development in quantum computing. He believes the world needs a real privacy coin due to governmental and private spying. However, he sees exchanges as a weakness, specifically centralized exchanges that require some form of government ID to trade. Therefore, McAfee created a decentralized exchange called McAfeeDex.

Decentralized exchanges are nothing new. Platforms such as Bisq and Blocknet have provided such services for several years. Bisq gives users the option to trade cryptocurrency directly for fiat. Still, most traded coins on these exchanges do not provide the anonymization that a coin like Monero does. Furthermore, Monero is not compatible with decentralized exchanges, and it does not aspire to be in the future. That is most likely due to fears of government intervention.

MacAfee saw this as a golden opportunity for his exchange, subsequently announcing his coin called Ghost. That coin is modeled after Monero but explicitly designed to be compatible with his exchange, though McAfee’s platform has not seen widespread adoption yet.

Ghost focuses on privacy, shielding, and erasing transaction history. It is a decentralized proof of stake network, including fast transactions and low fees. Their white paper and the TDLR lite paper are undoubtedly interesting.


Rapidly after the publication of the white paper, allegations of plagiarism and technical incompetence arose. The developers of the PIVX coin – an MIT licensed open source project focusing on privacy – stated that twenty out of 26 pages of the Ghost white paper were plagiarized.

Besides, they state that there are several technical inconsistencies and flaws within the white paper. Representatives of Ghost acknowledged that their coin was indeed a fork of PIVX, but defended themselves by arguing that PIVX is itself a fork of Dash. Moreover, they claimed to make significant improvements and that they would continue to innovate.

We still have to wait until the code becomes available publicly, in order to conclude. It should be noted that if Ghost does not respect the MIT license, they could be subject to a DMCA takedown, as well as exclusion from exchanges.

McAfee’s shady dealings

It is no wonder McAfee is living in (self-described) exile. He faces serious plagiarism accusations. Furthermore, his Ghost coin is also very suitable for money laundering. In a recently released podcast, he states he is on the run for the Federal Communications Commission, but he does not provide any evidence. Subsequently, he argues that it is not his job to police the world and that he is merely an entrepreneur that ‘builds shit.’

It is not unprecedented for the US government to intervene in such projects, though. TON, a blockchain project from the developers of the popular messaging app Telegram, was forced to shut down in a rather bizarre court ruling. Yet, it is hard to determine whether the US authorities are currently targeting McAfee.

In addition, McAfee stated in the past that he was in fact on the run due to tax evasion. He said: “I have not paid taxes for ten years, and I never will.” That appears consistent with his libertarian views.

When McAfee was arrested in the Dominican Republic for possessing illegal weapons and ammunition, there where no pending extradition requests from the US. He was released and allowed to travel to the United Kingdom. That strengthens the case that he is not in any (legal) trouble with the US. Meanwhile, he uses the media circus surrounding him as a form of marketing and publicity.  

Something he seems to thrive on is appealing to a broad spectrum of dissident media pundits. In an interview with the right-wing Youtuber Keith Woods – a staunch critic of capitalism and advocate of the third political way – he claimed that the CIA was hunting him, although he called them ‘incompetent.’ He also alleges he had multiple interactions with the Israeli Mossad. Even though it is possible, such wild claims are hard to prove.

MacAfee is not very popular within the crypto community either, as he made many bullish statements, only to later deem them as sarcasm. He is known to promote cryptocurrency in return for payment. That led to the accusation of running a pump-and-dump scheme, as he never mentioned those coins again.


McAfee is an intelligent man. His image as a tech cowboy earned him fame and significant wealth. When it comes to developing and innovating, he seems to be chasing trends more than setting them.

Only time will tell whether Ghost will live up to its promises. However, McAfee broke his promises many times before. He does not see that as immoral, though, referring to his libertarian beliefs.

We recommend caution using or investing in any of his projects. 

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