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October 26, 2017

5 of the most controversial people in tech today

Espionage, bribes, kidnap - who said tech was boring?

By Tom Ball

Eccentricity, egotism and potential espionage are terms that have been used in conjunction with these controversial characters. Some are impressed, some are inspired and some are horrified by the actions of these men, and many more are suspicious of what may or may not be the truth.

They have inspired documentaries and even films in some cases, and captured the imagination of the world at one time or another. Whether it is allegations of drug manufacturing, fleeing countries to escape police and governments, or launching bold and sophisticated rescues of kidnapped family members, you are sure to be gripped by the following people on this list.

What stands out is the fact that the majority of the people on our list continue to be vocal leaders in the tech world, refusing to shrink from the criticisms and allegations they have faced.


John McAfee

John McAfee is a man cloaked in controversy, most notably due to allegations of sexual assault, drug manufacturing, and the eye catching fact that he was reportedly a “person of interest” in the murder of American expat Gregory Viant Faull.

When McAfee was required by the police to face questions regarding the murder, he fled from Belize fearing that the police would kill him. He was arrested following illegal entry into Guatemala, during which time he reportedly faked heart attacks to improve his chances of being sent to the United States.

He achieved deportation to the United States, with his Belize home being mysteriously burned to the ground. In 2015 he was arrested again, but this time in Tennessee where he was hit with a DOI charge, in addition to possessing a gun while intoxicated.

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The notoriety of the founder of security firm, McAfee, has been deemed worthy of television, with a 2016 Showtime Network documentary entitled Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee having having been filmed and based on the time he spent living in Belize.

Not only has his wild life inspired a documentary, it is set to be captured on the big screen, with none other than pirate acting extraordinaire, Johnny Depp, reportedly taking on the task. This film is still in the making, but it is apparently going to be called ‘King of the Jungle’.


Eugene Kaspersky

The CEO of Kaspersky Lab is definitely not your average tech company chief executive, I for one realised the perception of the man when I heard Chuck Norris type jokes about him. An example could be, ‘what happened when the unstoppable force met the immovable object?’ The answer: Eugene Kaspersky, of course.

Born into the Soviet Union, Kaspersky attended The Technical Faculty of the KGB Higher School in 1987, and with a degree in mathematical engineering and computer technology, his path opened up before him.

Due to his KGB education combined with working alongside the Russian military, some became concerned that Kaspersky was in the position to benefit the Russian government. Kaspersky called this reaction “cold war paranoia”.

Kaspersky Lab software has again fallen under scrutiny of a similar nature, with the American NSA director announcing to the Senate Intelligence Committee that is was investigating the U.S. government’s use of the software in case it was used as an inroad for nation state hackers.

Perhaps the example that captures the imagination most easily is when Kaspersky worked with Russian police following the kidnap of his son, resulting in the rescue of his son and the arrest of a number of kidnappers. The daring rescue also ignored a three million euro ransom, adding to the gravity of the event.

While it is clear Kaspersky was involved in the rescue to some extent, some toy with the idea that it was Kaspersky himself kicking in the door of the kidnappers and making a heroic rescue.


Travis Kalanick

Uber has had a volatile existence so far, with 2017 going down in its history as a year of one disaster after another. Travis Kalanick was CEO during the majority of the controversial incidents to hit the company, and he personally is not free from controversy either.

At the beginning of 2017, Kalanick’s reputation was hit hard when we was filmed berating an Uber driver, with the profanity laced tirade including this line: “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck.”

Kalanick was also personally in the firing line when a top Uber shareholder accused him of furnishing the board with his own allies, following a change he had made to add an extra position. The shareholder was of the opinion that Kalanick had orchestrated the situation so that he could easily exit his position as chief executive, and move comfortably onto the company’s board.

The company was also hit with sexual assault and harassment claims, tarnishing Kalanick’s tenure as Uber CEO and leaving a lasting impression of the type of organisation he was running.


Larry Ellison

The famous Oracle CEO, Larry Ellison, has been in the spotlight for many eccentric activities, with some of his remarks now legendary in tech circles.

In regard to cloud he famously said: “Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?”

Despite trashing cloud, he proceeded to reveal the new cloud product from Oracle, saying: “We’ll make cloud computing announcements because, you know, if orange is the new pink, we’ll make orange blouses. I mean, I’m not gonna fight this thing.”

Yacht enthusiast, Ellison, drew attention when Oracle brought investigators on board amidst an antitrust trial that involved Microsoft. The Oracle CEO’s will to track down incriminating evidence in this instance reportedly led to a bribe being offered to caretakers with access to Microsoft rubbish, with said caretakers allegedly tasked to root through for the material he was looking for.

Oracle’s reputation was struck hard in 2002 following the release of the “Unbreakable” slogan for the security of its new products. Having waved the red flag to the bull, a group demonstrated a string of effective attacks.

David Litchfield, Cesar Cerrudo and Alexander Kornbrust were among a group that carried out these successful attacks on the Oracle EBusiness Suite, drawing a great deal of negative attention toward Ellison and Oracle.


Edward Snowden

Edward Joseph Snowden, previously a CIA computer professional, gained such notoriety that he too has been immortalised on the big screen in the film, Snowden.

The famous story is that he leaked classified information from the U.S. National Security Agency in 2013. Included in the information he exposed were details of global surveillance plans linked to the NSA.

He exposed the documents in their thousands to a journalist while abroad; The Guardian in the UK, and The New York Times ran stories that unveiled the crime Snowden had committed. This action brought him face to face with two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917, in addition to theft of government property.

He has evaded these charges by gaining asylum in Russia, where extensions have been granted to him that currently last until 2020 at least. Snowden’s notoriety has only been enhanced tenfold by the fact he has not faced his punishment.

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