The Media May Have Really Screwed Up When They Said This Was the Bitcoin Founder


The news: An exclusive Associated Press interview is contradicting Newsweek’s claim that 64-year-old Satoshi Nakamoto is the creator of bitcoin.

"I got nothing to do with it," Nakamoto told the AP's Ryan Nakashima. "How long is this media hoopla going to last?"

The Temple City, Calif. resident has been hounded by reporters ever since Newsweek published Leah McGrath Goodman's article identifying him as the crypto-currency's original programmer yesterday. The piece contained a photo of Nakamoto's house with a clearly visible street address. Not long after, reporters gathered outside to snap photos and ask questions, even chasing Nakamoto's Toyota Prius through Los Angeles when the AP picked him up for his interview.

L.A. Times business editor Joe Bel Bruno live tweeted much of the pursuit:

Image Credit: Business Insider

Bitcoin enthusiasts and concerned commenters across the Internet have expressed their anger regarding the situation, calling the article "inhumane" and "absolutely disgusting":

Image Credit: Newsweek

Before Nakamoto refuted Goodman's claims in the interview, several prominent media outlets picked up the story, including the Washington Post, the New York Times and Quartz. Bloomberg Businessweek even published a dubious quick-hit piece titled "Bitcoin Founder Is My Neighbor."

Meanwhile, Newsweek is standing by the original piece: "I stand completely by my exchange with Mr. Nakamoto," Goodman told the AP. "There was no confusion whatsoever about the context of our conversation — and his acknowledgment of his involvement in bitcoin."

What is bitcoin? Bitcoin is a digital currency that facilitates financial transactions without the interference of "middle men," like banks or the federal government. Bitcoins can be anonymously purchased online using various pre-existing currencies such as the U.S. dollar. Because of their anonymity and lack of regulation, bitcoins are particularly appealing to people involved in illicit activities. The currency is now accepted by a variety of prominent online retailers, including Overstock, Reddit and OkCupid.

How did this "Nakamoto" thing start? Leah McGrath Goodman claims to have tracked down Nakamoto following reports that he shares the original bitcoin developer's name. Where many concluded that "Satoshi Nakamoto" was a pseudonym, Goodman perused a database of naturalized U.S. citizens and matched the details she knew about the bitcoin creator with this secretive 64-year-old.

Her conclusions about his identity were based largely on squaring bitcoin's development with unaccounted for gaps in Nakamoto's work life. Nakamoto was a multi-talented engineer with a physics degree from Cal Poly Pomona who intermittently performed classified work for defense contractors starting in 1973. He also did software development for a financial systems company called Quotron in 1987 and claims to have worked for the Federal Aviation Administration between 1999 and 2001.

Bitcoin officially launched in 2009. The currency's chief scientist, 47-year-old Gavin Andresen, says he was in contact with someone who went by "Satoshi Nakamoto" shortly after the launch and helped this individual further develop the currency. Andresen claims Nakamoto had been working on bitcoin for years. According to Goodman, this accounts for the eight-year gap in Nakamoto's life between 2001 and 2009.

During her two months of research and interviews with Nakamoto's family, Goodman eventually approached the man himself. What happened next is the source of some confusion: she claims to have asked him about his involvement with bitcoin, to which he replied, "I am no longer involved in that and cannot discuss it. It's been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection."

However, in the AP interview, Nakamoto claims he was referring to his classified engineering work, not bitcoin: "I'm saying I'm no longer in engineering. That's it. And even if I was, when we get hired, you have to sign this document, contract saying you will not reveal anything we divulge during and after employment. So that's what I implied."

Image Credit: The Awl

What now? This alleged miscommunication has sparked a nationwide debate over journalistic conduct and integrity. When details are this foggy and the subject himself won't cop to what he's allegedly done, it seems wise to hold off on publishing the story. Now Newsweek is being criticized for drawing unwanted attention to a private and possibly innocent man. To make matters worse, some have speculated that the real bitcoin creator might be a significant person of interest to federal governments and criminals alike. If true, his life could be in danger.

One can only hope 64-year-old Satoshi Nakamoto emerges from this debacle unscathed.