Newsweek’s decision to out Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto as the creator of bitcoin appears to be backfiring spectacularly.
Nakamoto was quick to deny that he was the 'real' Satoshi Nakamoto and he attributed the misunderstanding to his less than perfect command of the English language.
He told the Associated Press that he refused to discuss his employment with Newsweek reporter Leah McGrath Goodman because he had signed confidentiality agreements, not because he was involved in the development of bitcoin.
If unfounded, Newsweek’s scoop could very quickly turn into a PR nightmare, as the magazine ran the report in its re-launched print edition. Perhaps Newsweek was simply too eager to get a scoop for the big day?
Back to the stone age
Newsweek is not the first publication to try and reveal the identity of the mystery man. What was so different this time around?
First of all, bitcoin is bigger and better-known, used frequently as headline 'link bait'. Secondly, this was not the work of blogger or a niche website. Newsweek has quite a reputation, or at least it used to.
Six years ago Satoshi Nakamoto was just another anonymous member of the P2P Foundation, so 2008 would be a good place to start. Back then nobody knew bitcoin would become a global phenomenon, so anonymity wasn't such a big deal.
Satoshi Nakamoto had a simple user profile and claimed to be a 37-year-old Japanese man. The community didn't exactly buy it, as certain details did not add up. His English was good and sometimes he used British English. Judging by the time he made his posts, the mystery man probably resided in the Americas, not Japan.
On the other hand, bitcoin.org was registered using a Japanese anonymous registration service and it was hosted by a Japanese ISP.
Several developers were working on digital currencies and e-cash technology even before Nakamoto published his bitcoin whitepaper. Most of them were not anonymous and even today there are people in the bitcoin community who claim that these crypto pioneers are the real Satoshi.
Nick Szabo, Hal Finney, Wei Dai and several other developers were among those who were periodically named in media reports and online discussions.
They all insist they are not Nakamoto.
Media reports start to emerge
As bitcoin took off, the media started taking notice and another round of speculation ensued. In 2011 an investigative journalist identified three patent holders as Nakamoto. All three denied they were involved.
The same year, The New Yorker ran a story claiming that a few Dublin-based scholars including Dr Vili Lehdonvirta could be behind bitcoin, but once again the claim was followed by denials.
The list of potential Satoshis continued to expand. Eventually it started looking like the "who's who" of bitcoin. Founder of Mt. Gox Jed McCaleb was eventually named, along with several scholars, core developers such as Finney, crypto specialists and just about everyone else who could remotely fit the profile.
Interestingly, all 'suspects' were men – we're still waiting for the first female Satoshi.
Conspiracy theorists join the fun
Rampant speculation in a fact-free environment is an invitation to conspiracy theorists, thus a number of whacky and rather amusing theories have emerged over the years.
Some insist the DARPA is behind bitcoin, while others maintain it was created by the NSA, or any of a number of secretive government agencies that have the brains and resources to develop cutting-edge crypto technologies. One theory alleges the 'real' Satoshi is in fact NSA researcher Tasuaki Okamoto.
Since conspiracy theorists have a penchant for one-world governments and global domination, some claim bitcoin was in fact created by the IMF to serve as a global currency.
Others point to central banks, financial institutions or tech companies.
It doesn't really matter, does it?
Satoshi Nakamoto left the world of bitcoin in 2010, saying he is moving on to new projects. He handed everything over to the bitcoin community, the source code repository, the domains – everything but his bitcoins. Nakamoto is still believed to hold about one million coins, which would have made him a billionaire when bitcoin peaked.
A few hours after Newsweek outed Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto, the 'real' Nakamoto logged into his disused P2P Foundation account and left a simple message:
"I am not Dorian Nakamoto."
Nicolas Mendoza from P2P Foundation took to reddit, saying the foundation is in the process of verifying whether Satoshi's post is legitimate. He said an official statement will be issued in the coming hours.
But in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? The real Satoshi clearly does not want the attention – if he dropped everything in 2010, when bitcoin was still a geekish curiosity, he surely does not want it now.
The community loves the bitcoin mystique and if he ever comes forward, much of the romantic mystery surrounding bitcoin will be gone for good. Other than a few headlines, the world of bitcoin wouldn't gain much, yet Nakamoto would lose his privacy and peace of mind. In other words, it is not going to happen.
That said, he could make an appearance without revealing his true identity. After all, he seem to be pretty good at that sort of thing – and he wouldn't have to develop a proof-of-identity protocol to make it happen.
Maze image via Shutterstock