In 2016, my colleague Matt Labash wrote about meeting John McAfee:
The second you meet McAfee, he takes you into his confidence, laughing easily in a hyena-like howl, throwing his arm around you, yet still speed-walking as though he's being chased, which occasionally he is (he's told reporters he's being pursued by everyone from the Belizean government to Mexican drug cartels).
McAfee is the subject of this fact check.
After the “Presidential Alert” test happened on Wednesday, social-media obsessives lost their minds. But McAfee was there, like L. Ron Hubbard, ready to lead his people into enlightenment.
“The ‘Presidential alerts,’” McAfee tweeted Wednesday, “they are capable of accessing the E911 chip in your phones - giving them full access to your location, microphone, camera and every function of your phone. This not a rant, this is from me, still one of the leading cybersecurity experts. Wake up people!”
The "Presidential alerts": they are capable of accessing the E911 chip in your phones - giving them full access to your location, microphone, camera and every function of your phone. This not a rant, this is from me, still one of the leading cybersecurity experts. Wake up people!— John McAfee (@officialmcafee) October 3, 2018
“What are people to do?” one user, supposedly skilled in transferring cryptocurrency to and from Nigeria tweeted back. (TWS expects to receive the reliable requests from the Prince after our fact check, but this time soliciting pure bitcoin.)
“Find a phone that is 5+ years old and use only that,” McAfee advised.
McAfee noted the far reach of this tweet in a follow-up, whipping out his retweets in contrast to president Donald Trump’s. “It’s influence that counts, not numbers,” he noted, showing his influence through the number of retweets he received. (We’re as confused as you, reader.)
They say I don't have the public reach to run for POTUS, citing Trump's 50 million Twitter followers vs my 800,000. It's influence that counts, not numbers. Yesterday, my tweet had almost 30,000 retweets. Trump's retweets were minimal. I will reach the people. Believe me: pic.twitter.com/CAYPjRpIex— John McAfee (@officialmcafee) October 4, 2018
A screenshot of McAfee’s original tweet was posted on Facebook and has garnered another 164,000 shares, aiding in his argument that size matters.
But the presidential alert did not use the E911 system, and that system doesn’t access the camera and microphone function on a cell phone. FEMA, who was responsible for the alert on Wednesday, was testing the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Emergency Alert System (EAS):
Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes beginning at 2:18 p.m. EDT. During this time, WEA compatible cell phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA should be capable of receiving the test message. Some cell phones will not receive the test message, and cell phones should only receive the message once
The alert was a simple push notification and is not connected to E911, FEMA told NBC affiliate K5News:
The cell phone functions that receive and display WEA messages are not related or connected to E911 functions in any way. The majority of wireless providers in the United State use Cell Broadcast technology to deliver WEA alert messages to cell phones. Cell Broadcast is a one-way communications protocol. Phones that receive WEA messages choose to display the message if the phone is not busy in a phone call or data session. The WEA message display function in a phone does not use the GPS, microphone, or camera functions of the phone.
Regarding the E911 system, the FCC notes on its website that “most 911 systems now automatically report the telephone number and location of 911 calls made from wireline phones, a capability called Enhanced 911, or E911.” This “Enhanced 911” capability accesses the phone’s location but not its camera, microphone, etc. (Additionally, E911 is not a “chip” as McAfee claimed.)
Of course, there's one problem with all of these reasonable-sounding explanations: If the government has access to your phone’s camera, mic, et al. why would they tell you? But regrettably, such conspiracy-theory-laden retorts are outside the realm of our fact checking capabilities.
PS: Hey Labash, we heard McAfee is looking for a ghostwriter for his new autobiography. (The first was “fired.”) Start reading up on blockchain.
Ghost Writer needed for my autobiography. I just fired my first contractor due to overwhelming naivete and immaturity. If you have any life whatsoever outside of your work, please do not apply. Email: email@example.com— John McAfee (@officialmcafee) October 4, 2018
PPS: There might be a taser component to the interview, with the possible addition of a “flesh wound” shooting. We’re not sure how to prep for that.
If you have questions about this fact check, or would like to submit a request for another fact check, email Holmes Lybrand at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Weekly Standard at email@example.com. For details on TWS Fact Check, see our explainer here