Tech leaders behaving badly
While it’s unusual for tech leaders to get into trouble with the law it’s not unheard of
Strange news out of Belize this week, where John McAfee - he who founded McAfee, Inc., the anti-virus software company - is wanted for murder. While he hasn’t been involved with the company for quite some time, he, has, apparently, turned into a recluse and has been exhibiting increasingly strange behavior.
Whether or not he actually committed murder, he’s clearly not your average wealthy tech company founder. Reading his story got me to thinking about the history of well-known tech leaders running afoul of the law. How common is it?
I spent a little time digging into the backgrounds of some famous tech leaders to see who, if anyone, has a record. I ignored hackers and people who got into trouble because, essentially, their business is based on (potentially) illegal activity. No, I was looking for evidence of rapscallion-like behavior by otherwise respectable folks outside the office environment.
It didn’t take much digging to realize (as expected) this is pretty unusual; people who found companies like Apple, Microsoft or Google don't tend to be dangers to society. They may be a bit nerdy and sometimes a little eccentric, but, in general, tech leaders are law-abiding citizens.
However, John McAfee aside, there have been a few skeletons in the closets of well-known (and sometimes beloved) tech leaders. Here now, are the handful of examples that I found.
Everyone’s favorite, iconic tech leader Steve Jobs was arrested in 1975 in Oregon for failure to pay a speeding ticket. Ironic that a man who would become famous for his attention to detail would neglect to pay a ticket. But, then again, it was generally Steve’s way or the highway, so if he thought he was in the right, it all makes a little more sense.
Most people have probably seen the famous mugshot of America’s best-known nerd (well, aside from maybe Nate Silver now), who was arrested in 1975 (or possibly 1977, depending on whom you ask) in New Mexico for some sort of traffic violation. Was this just another case of Bill trying to copy something Steve did, but failing miserably (you’ll note the lack of existence of a dorky mugshot of Jobs)? We may never know.
Napster founder Sean Parker - the guy played by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network - was arrested in 2005 for suspicion of possession of cocaine. While, ultimately, no charges were filed he is (or was) a well-known partier which can lead to trouble. I find it surprising that we haven’t seen more of this kind of thing, given the young ages and incredible wealth of today’s tech leaders (that’s right, I’m glancing in your general direction, David Karp).
You thought the world’s best-known hoodie-wearer’s greatest crime was his invasion of your privacy? Well, that may still be, since, he’s never actually been arrested for anything. However, in 2010 Pakistan launched a criminal investigation of the Zuck (along with Facebook co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes) for committing blasphemy because a Facebook user in Germany created a “Draw Muhammad” contest on the site. While nothing came of it (aside from Facebook being temporarily banned in Pakistan), if arrested and convicted he could have faced the death penalty.
While, no doubt, many of us wouldn’t mind seeing him get a good spanking for all of the privacy-related headaches he’s caused, it’s hard to wish the death penalty on or hold this one against him.
While the records of would-be tech leaders the Winklevoss twins seem to be as squeaky clean as their look, the same can’t be said for the actor who portrayed both of them in The Social Network (there’s that movie again). Armie Hammer was arrested in 2011 in Texas for possession of marijuana (the charges were later dropped). Last we heard of him, he was wisely planning to relocate to Colorado.
That’s all I came up with which, I’m guessing, is not a complete list. Who am I missing? What other famous tech leaders have run into trouble with the law outside of work? Please share in the comments.