Has the face of bitcoin really been unmasked?

Newsweek's investigation into Satoshi Nakamoto, the man alleged to have created bitcoin, has inspired ire and skepticism

Earlier this morning Newsweek ran a scoop that could have been featured in the pages of Wired or Ars Technica: an investigation into the man known only as "Satoshi Nakamoto," the elusive creator of bitcoin.

Reporter Leah McGrath Goodman, who covers finance and politics for Newsweek, dug into the life and background of a man, born Satoshi Nakamoto but using the legal name Dorian S. Nakamoto for much of his life, who is believed to be the Satoshi Nakamoto. But in the process, she revealed what some say is a little too much information about the man.

The reclusiveness of the Nakamoto who created bitcoin has been the stuff of legend ever since the publication of the original paper on bitcoin that bore his name. One theory held that it was actually a pseudonym for not just one person but possibly a whole collective of people.

The Newsweek article details a reclusive Japanese-American man in his sixties with a libertarian political streak, two marriages behind him and multiple children, and a history of various high-tech jobs with Radio Corporation of America, financial information service Quotron Systems, and the post-9/11 Federal Aviation Administration.

Much of Newsweek's evidence connecting Goodman's Nakamoto with bitcoin is circumstantial but tantalizing. The most direct piece of evidence that links this Nakamoto to bitcoin was not his work experience or hobbies, but rather a terse statement he gave when Goodman asked him about bitcoin: "I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it," which Goodman characterizes as "tacitly acknowledging his role in the ... project."

Newsweek has come under fire -- in the Reddit forums for bitcoin, among other places -- for presenting what some feel is way too much information about the man. The article also presents a photo purported to be of the man himself, as well as a picture of his house with his car parked in the driveway. Given that the information could be used irresponsibly, and the real Nakamoto could be worth nearly half a billion dollars in digital cash, was this a wise thing to do, some argue?

Whatever Nakamoto's connection with bitcoin -- if any -- the article actually presents scant evidence that Nakamoto has profited from the currency. Bitcoin co-developer Gavin Andresen is quoted as saying that Nakamoto didn't want to become a public figure and might be wary of cashing in on his bitcoin riches for fear of attracting further attention.

Bitcoin's notoriety has peaked in the last couple of weeks, thanks to the bankruptcy of online exchange Mt. Gox and massive thefts at other exchanges. Now the person possibly at the center of the crypto currency, who went to extraordinary lengths to conceal his identity, has become one of the most notorious element of all. It would be one of the bigger ironies to find he has been more or less hiding in plain sight.

Ultimately, bitcoin's real importance lies not in the past, with its creator, but in the future. What's most crucial is whether professional platforms can be created to trade in the currency, and how its underlying algorithms are its real source of value.

This story, "Has the face of bitcoin really been unmasked?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.


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