DefCon: John McAfee Launches Complaints Website

Eccentric security pioneer John McAfee took to the stage at DefCon hacker conference in Las Vegas to launch the BrownList – a website where anyone can file a complaint about pretty much anything.

BrownList users can suggest solutions to the problems while the website team delivers their complaints to the relevant organisation. McAfee hopes that the complaints, which are kept online forever, will generate rapid responses and “motivate a revolution”.

“It’s payback time”

As a young and talented programmer, McAfee worked for high-profile companies such as NASA, Xerox, Lockheed and CSC. He started his own business in 1987, and left it in 1994, after making an estimated $100 million fortune on anti-virus software. The company founded by McAfee is now owned by Intel, and remains one of the largest security software vendors in the world.

More recently, McAfee came to the attention of the public when he went on the run from the authorities in Belize, following the murder of his neighbour and fellow American expatriate Gregory Faull. McAfee believed that Faull’s murder was a mistake, and the killers were actually after him.

This motivated the 67-year-old to change his appearance and go on the run, accompanied by his 20-year-old girlfriend Samantha. After hiding in Belize jungle for three weeks, McAfee crossed into neighbouring Guatemala, where he was arrested by immigration officials for entering the country illegally, and eventually deported – but to the US, not Belize.

There, he used the time not spent in courts to launch several projects, from the humorous School of Badass to the Chadder secure messaging app, and now, the BrownList.

At the moment, the website offers complaints in nine categories including politics, law enforcement and ‘college life’. After submitting a complaint, users can propose solutions and vote on the best course of action. Meanwhile, the BrownList team delivers the complaint to the relevant organisation.

The website already features complaints about ISPs, airlines, eBay, cable companies in the US and unethical employment practices in Qatar. However, there’s also plenty of unintelligible complaints like “he break up with me because someone he want to be my boyfriend”.

Even though most of BrownList’s users are anonymous, the website promises to never delete complaints, even after the issue they are referring to has been fixed. The website says this helps maintain the highest level of integrity, but it’s not clear how the administrators plan to deal with complaints that don’t make sense.

McAfee told Reuters that the website “taps into anger in a positive way,” and claimed that it is funded by $450,000 from a private investor. He added that the website will make money by offering subscription services to businesses, which will immediately receive a notification when a complaint about them is registered on BrownList.

McAfee’s inclusion into the DefCon programme could be seen as a political statement – after all, the BrownList is not a security product. The conference prides itself on its informal, anti-establishment culture. Let’s just say that McAfee is highly unlikely to get an invitation to Black Hat, DefCon’s more serious neighbour.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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