A picture is worth a thousand words

I read about this and had to smile a little. According to the Washington Post, an anonymous hacker managed to track down John McAfee in Guatemala using only the information he could deduce from a single photograph. In case you don’t know, John McAfee is the tech millionaire behind the eponymous anti-spyware system – he is currently wanted for questioning by authorities in Belize after a neighbour was found dead near McAfee’s home.

It seems that, while granting an interview from “an undisclosed location”, Mr McAfee allowed a photo to be taken with some journalists who posted the image online with the fate-tempting words, “We are with John McAfee right now, suckers”. A hacker had a look at the image and worked out that it contained detailed data routinely collected by smartphones cameras, and routinely transmitted wherever a smartphone image is sent. This was enough for the hacker to track McAfee’s iPhone 4S to a Guatemalan villa, and date the image to prove that he really was there.

What does this have to do with mediation? Plenty. I was lucky enough to observe a mediation recently and one of the most interesting things for me was how everyone in the room said so much without ever speaking. How people gesticulated, the way each party sat when they were speaking and then listening to the other side, the minute twitches when a person heard new or provocative information; all of these things seemed to add voices and messages to what people were vocally expressing. It really made the ‘observation’ aspect of the observership fascinating, because I felt I could pick out the dynamics of the discussions even with the sound turned down, so to speak.

It’s very possible that some of the body language I noted was intentional, and a tactical way of reinforcing sticking points and things that were open to flexibility. However, like John McAfee, a lot of the information communicated on the day, and every day in fact, came from actions that each person probably wasn’t even aware of taking. It’s also interesting to watch this phenomenon more generally – when you hear something and think “that’s not quite right, is it?”, what you might be picking up on is the hidden body language information that the other person is unwittingly surrendering. By the same token, the person with “an honest face” probably has exactly that – their gestures and mannerisms subconsciously back up what you are hearing them tell you.

John ‘Anti Spyware’ McAfee is in a class of his own for ironic technological oversight, but there is something of a moral to this story for everyone else. In everyday life as in Guatemala, people tell you a lot more than they actually say, and certainly more than they realise.


To read more about John McAfee and how the hacker tracked him down, click through to the Washington Post article here.


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