It’s been nearly three years since anyone involved with Bitcoin heard from Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of the cryptocurrency that has created fortunes and changed lives. Now it seems that Nakamoto has finally been revealed. And many in the Bitcoin community would rather that the godfather of digital money had remained a cipher.
On Thursday morning, Newsweek published its exposé on Nakamoto, a two-month investigation that led to Nakamoto’s home near San Bernadino, California. Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, if indeed he is Bitcoin’s creator as plenty of evidence indicates, is a 64-year-old Japanese man with libertarian leanings, a background in classified military engineering, and a love of model trains. There’s little sign that he’s spent the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of digital cash he likely controls based on analysis of Bitcoin’s transaction history; He lives in a modest home and drives a Toyota Corolla.
But for many in the Bitcoin community, even those who have been obsessed with Nakamoto for years, those details may not have been worth violating the privacy of a very private person. “If someone was telling you you don’t want to be known and you report a story about that person’s life and put up a picture of him and his home, that’s a bit f–ked up,” says Michael Goldstein, creator of the Satoshi Nakamoto Institute, a website that catalogs Nakamoto’s writings along with other Bitcoin-related papers. He still doubts the article’s findings, but argues that the article is shamefully invasive of Nakamoto’s solitude if it is true. ”I find it upsetting.”
On Bitcoin Talk, the main web forum that hosts the cryptocurrency community’s conversation, reactions began with denial. “What is this fake crap,” wrote one of the first commenters. “Unless he can do a signed transaction from an address known to be that of the originator of Bitcoin, then I don’t believe, sorry,” wrote another user, referring to a cryptographic trick that would prove someone held the private Bitcoin keys known to be held by Nakamoto.
Soon, the conversation shifted to anger. “Way to reward our liberator. Irresponsible,” wrote Amir Taaki, a well-known Bitcoin developer. “Really immature journalism at best. A mistake that might cost someone their life at worst,” added another commenter.
Criticism of Newsweek’s article, which describes a silent standoff with a Nakamoto as reporter Leah McGrath Goldman’s stood at the end of his driveway and was questioned by police, focused in particular on Goldman’s decision to name Nakamoto’s family members and to publish a picture of his house. Mikko Hypponnen, a security researcher for antivirus firm F-Secure, showed that he was quickly able to determine the address of the house and posted a picture of it from Google Streetview. “This is so bad for Mr. Nakamoto,” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s trivial to find his home address on the net.”
Gavin Andresen, chief scientist for the Bitcoin foundation, wrote that after reading Newsweek’s piece he wished he hadn’t allowed himself to be interviewed for the article. “I’m disappointed Newsweek decided to dox the Nakamoto family,” he wrote on Twitter, using the Internet jargon “dox” to refer to revealing identifying details on someone, “and regret talking to Leah.”
On Reddit’s subforum devoted to Bitcoin, however, a user with a throw-away account responded to the article by posting a note of gratitude to Nakamoto: ”Just want to take this chance to thank him for what he has done,” wrote ThankYouSatoshi, Calling the revelation of more details of his life’s work “a true inspiration to me.”
If nothing else, Nakamoto’s unmasking does start to answer questions about the political motivations behind Bitcoin. Newsweek’s story quotes Nakamoto’s daughter describing him as a libertarian who is “very wary of the government, taxes and people in charge.” In another part of the story, she describes playing a game with her father in which they would pretend “government agencies” were coming after her.
“It sounds like he was a libertarian and had a huge distrust of the government,” says the Nakamoto Institute’s Goldstein, an anarcho-capitalist who has argued for years that the politicial intentions of Bitcoin’s creator had been to limit government control of money. “Told you so.”
But Goldstein argues that Nakamoto’s personal life and political opinions have little to do with Bitcoin’s current functioning. Bitcoin’s code, after all, has been almost entirely rewritten since Nakamoto first published the first implementation of it.
In fact, he says he wishes that the namesake of his organization had remained in obscurity, leaving the world to focus on the code, rather than the person who wrote it. “It’s less mythological this way,” Goldstein says. “I’ve always wanted to know about Satoshi only because it tells us about Bitcoin itself…when the person is known, it makes it more difficult to explain why it doesn’t matter who the person is.”
Follow me on Twitter , email me, anonymously send me sensitive documents or tips , and check out the new paperback edition of my book, This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers.