Satoshi Nakamoto: Is it ok to hunt for the identity of the Bitcoin inventor?

To search or not to search for the identity of the mysterious founder and inventor of Bitcoin, that is the question. Do we the public have a right to satisfy our curiosity about who the person behind the Satoshi Nakamoto pseudonym is? Or are we ethically obliged to respect his or her privacy?

Two opposing views on the topic come from Adrian Chen, a staff writer at The New Yorker, whose beat is internet technology and culture, and Emin Gün Sirer, Cornell prof and self-described hacker.

Chen’s argument is that “in investigating the background of an inventor, we hope to learn something about innovation that can’t be gleaned from the thing itself.” He says it’s wishful thinking to argue as many Bitcoiners do that Satoshi Nakamoto’s identity is irrelevant. Somewhat unconvincingly, Chen also maintains that the mere fact that Satoshi holds an estimated half a billion dollars worth of Bitcoin legitimizes the curiosity about who he is or isn’t.

At core though, Chen’s argument seems to be about not letting technology control us. “Turning away from the question of Nakamoto’s identity is a way to deny the fact that bitcoin, like all technology, is ultimately, imperfectly, human,” his brief essay concludes. “The world could use this reminder now more than ever.”

In contrast, Sirer says the spectacle of journalists hunting for Satoshi’s identity “serves only a prurient interest.” He argues that we have no right to make “someone who wants to remain a private individual into a public persona,” especially when what’s brought attention to them is an invention that ultimately benefits the public.

In the case of Bitcoin, Sirer says, being outed as Satoshi could also be dangerous and lead to “extortion attempts from the Russian mafia[.] Everyone known to hold substantial bitcoin, and even those who do not, get extorted by shady characters.”

But, somewhat contradictorily, in the same blog post, Sirer says he thinks he might have identified Satoshi, that people’s “thought patterns and idiosyncrasies form a unique signature, the same way code structure forms a unique signature for developers.”

“Having read Satoshi’s writings, I have a very good idea of his unique mental signature,” he writes.

“So, for some time now, every time I converse with someone new, I have been doing a quick comparison to Satoshi…

“Interestingly, I have come across one person who was a perfect fit. That person had the precise same intellectual signature as Satoshi, someone who could have written, word for word, some of Satoshi’s forum posts.”

Now Sirer says a lot of things that make sense to me about Bitcoin. And as a writer and investigator, I know that people definitely have a writerly signature. I frequently discover people’s identities due to their unique turns of phrase. I am inclined to believe that he might very well have insights into who the Bitcoin inventor truly is.

But I don’t agree with Sirer that the Bitcoin inventor would automatically be in danger from the Russian mob. There are lots of rich people in the world, who get along just fine. While being outed might be majorly disruptive for Satoshi, I am far from convinced it would be perilous. Not to mention that Sirer seems perfectly secure telling the world he believes he has identified Satoshi.

I also don’t think it’s fair of Sirer to accuse the media of conducting a “pointless Satoshi manhunt” when he’s been doing the exact same thing. He clearly wants to know who Satoshi is so why can’t the rest of us?

It’s not good enough to say responsible media don’t do this. There may be a good reason not to reveal Satoshi’s identity or there may not be. There may also be compelling grounds to tell the public who Satoshi is. Without knowing his or her specific circumstances, it’s impossible to say.

On the question of privacy, lt’s my experience as a journalist that people who want to be left alone generally do get left alone. In the Satoshi case, there’s little doubt that a public identification would lead to a media conflagration, but after a stint in the world’s headlines, I think it would be pretty easy for Satoshi to get back to leading a normal life.

I am, however, still undecided on the question of whether the public has a right to know the identity of the Bitcoin creator, as Chen seems to suggest it does.

Ultimately, I think that depends on Satoshi’s very individual circumstances as opposed to what responsible media should do or how we need to be reminded about the imperfections of technology.

GQ’s Bitcoin article: Inside the £8 billion swindle

British-GQ-September-2016-463x600-9051798I don’t get it.

On its September 2016 cover, British GQ labels Craig Wright’s claim to be the inventor on Bitcoin a swindle, but then inside the author is still falling for parts of Wright’s con — the main one being that the late Dave Kleiman is a computer genius who could be the elusive Satoshi Nakamoto.

Pretty much everything we know about Kleiman comes from Wright and shouldn’t be trusted. There is absolutely nothing concrete to suggest Kleiman is the Bitcoin inventor. It’s almost comical when, along with the Wright claims about Kleiman, GQ cites the fact he was a guest commentator on security issues on CNN and ABC, that he had a lot of certificates from various courses he’d taken, and that he lived in the eastern US time zone as reasons for why he could well be Satoshi Nakamoto.

It’s just bizarre how much people want to believe this Wright and Kleiman tale when there’s zero proof to back it up and lots of evidence that Wright is a serial liar and a belligerent fool. As for Kleiman, I do not wish to suggest in any way that he is part of this con. He’s dead and can’t speak for himself, which makes it very easy for others, like Wright, to speak for him.

The GQ article doesn’t name Wright’s backers apart from Robert MacGregor, who seems to have been appointed as the public face of the operation. MacGregor may still be working for online gambling tycoon, Calvin Ayre, who was his boss when he was employed by Riptown Media in Vancouver last decade. Neither he nor Ayre responded to emails requesting comment about their relationship.

At this point, I still don’t know if Wright fooled Ayre and MacGregor, and if they really paid him $15 million, as the LRB maintains, and set him up with a team of 30 employees, as Wright claims in GQ. Sure Ayre’s a gambler but putting a guy who conducts himself like Wright does in charge of anything seems like a really, really stupid bet. And it’s weird that Wright says he didn’t want to come out as Satoshi while sources are telling GQ he was forced to do it by his backers. There just seems to be a whole lot of image and story crafting going on.

I’m still not sure what the real story is supposed to be, but I have a feeling it will all be told eventually. The GQ piece isn’t online yet. It’s only available in print. However, the magazine did post stunning audio of Wright’s foul mouthed tirade when he was confronted last May with the fact that his “proof” that he created Bitcoin was less than convincing.

GQ interview: Is Craig Wright the bitcoin genius? from Joseph Ingham on Vimeo.

Questions re that London Review of Books article on Bitcoin

So I finally read the London Review of Books’ magnum opus on Craig Wright, apparent pretender to the Bitcoin throne. I had never bought that Wright invented Bitcoin and the article — all 35,000 words of it — did nothing to convince me otherwise.

wright_twitter_profile

Wright had always struck me as a self promoter not a self effacing type prepared to forego the praise and attention lavished on brilliant inventors. He also seemed very concerned about his image as projected by his clothes and the photos he used to represent himself. Modest types don’t tend to call themselves “Dr.” and show themselves off in evening wear on social media.

The whole Canadian investor thing didn’t sit right either. Robert MacGregor and his company nTrust say they are in the “cloud money” business, but when I looked at their website, MacGregor was no longer listed as CEO. Nor could I figure out what exactly nTrust did and why it would be beneficial to use it. It certainly didn’t strike me as a company making so much money that its CEO would have $15 million to invest in bailing out the broke supposed inventor of Bitcoin. (nTrust apparently set up nCrypt, a new subsidiary to handle at lease some of the Bitcoin business.)

I also found it strange that while the LRB strongly hints at the involvement of Calvin Ayre in this whole Wright/Bitcoin affair, it didn’t mention that MacGregor too has ties to Bodog and Ayre going back years.

MacGregor worked at the Bodog affiliate, Riptown Media, in Vancouver for years. When he set up nTrust, it was with a group of former Riptown employees. nTrust also appears to have ties to Ayre. When police raided Ayre-linked companies in the Philippines in 2013, Robert MacGregor’s name was listed on the search warrants.

The Manila Times reported that nTrust, also known as Fenris Ventures, was suspected by Filipino police of being a front for Ayre’s illegal gambling operations. Ayre flatly denied all accusations of wrongdoing and took prosecutors and police to court, claiming there was no basis for the warrants. The Philippines appeals court recently ruled in his favour that it was an illegal search and seizure operation.

That’s about the extent of what I know for now but if you have further information I would love to hear from you. The Bitcoin inventor saga fascinates me and I would like to know more about the relationships between Robert MacGregor, Craig Wright, Stefan Matthews and Calvin Ayre.

The big question in my mind and for now is whose idea was it that Craig Wright should claim he invented Bitcoin?

ann.brocklehurst@gmail.com