Some thoughts on Satoshi Nakamoto and “doxing” | Saturday 8 March 2014

sakamoto NOPE

Whether or not Satoshi Nakamoto is the turtle-faced man that journalists have been chasing around L.A. is (now that story has broken) not a particularly interesting debate.

The namesake of the mysterious Bitcoin creator certainly has a reputation among those who know him that fits, and the right military contractor/mathematics genius background to be the person who designed the code for Bitcoin. Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto doesn’t seem likely to confirm that he actually is the Bitcoin creator any time soon.

What’s interesting is the collision between some very good traditional journalism by Leah McGrath Goodman at Newsweek – going through employment records, checking name databases, interviewing associates – and the hacker subculture term “doxing”.

As Junkee pointed out, one of the major sources for the story – Gavin Andresen – is not happy that Goodman released Nakamoto’s name and gave a solid enough background story for Nakamoto that other journalists quickly established where to find him.

The question is whether McGrath Goodman actually “doxed” Nakamoto, or was simply doing her job in revealing the name, birth year and general location – not address, not social security or banking details – and existence of the (potentially) real creator of Bitcoin – and whether that in itself is even a problem.

As the Wired piece on “doxing” covers, there’s a malice implied in the act of “doxing” that doesn’t appear to be the thrust of McGrath Goodman’s piece. She details the problems of working with a difficult subject, and then apparently gets clearance from those around him to reveal the details of their on the record conversations about his background and behaviour (used as corroborating evidence).

Is there a legitimate public interest in knowing who Satoshi Nakamoto is? If Bitcoin is to shape financial markets, and if Nakamoto has the alleged stash of over $400 million worth of Bitcoins that Newsweek suggests, then yes. There’s a valid argument to be made that it’s in the public interest to know the identity of someone who could flood the market and crash Bitcoin at the flick of a finger.

That ability also brings up legitimate questions about the legitimacy of Bitcoin as an alternative currency, which is obviously a concern given the currency’s constant fluctuations in the past 12 months.

Do the risks associated with revealing Nakamoto’s identity to the public (and, following that, a hungry media) outweigh the public interest? What are the risks?

Some at Reddit seem to think that he could now have a legitimate fear for his safety – or even life – given his alleged wealth. That seems rather inflated – the risk doesn’t seem any more founded than any other person with wealth’s name being known.

Nakamoto’s personal peace and privacy seem to be the only real things at risk. And that is a legitimate risk.

I would argue that the benefit to the public interest outweighs that small risk – which seems mostly to be the risk of other journalists chasing Nakamoto en masse through the streets of Temple City.

It’s a very different level of risk to the recent Grantland article on the “mysterious” Dr V – outed by journalist Caleb Hannan as a transwoman during the course of an article about a golf putter. The identity of Dr V as a transwoman was the key factor in the ethical problems with that article, and the revelation of Dr V’s trans-status was both unnecessary for the article and posed a potentially high immediate risk to Dr V’s personal safety – given attitudes towards trans-people in some sections of the community – and mental health.

The sore point here for those calling “dox” is that the whole purpose of a cyptocurrency is to both exclude government bodies and allow the anonymous transaction of currency – it’s why revealing the alleged identity of Nakamoto is such a big deal to some.

On this, it’s worth noting that Satoshi Nakamoto appears to have been, for all these years, semi-pseudonymous at best.

Did McGrath Goodman “dox” Satoshi Nakamoto? Based on her intent, I don’t think she did. But I also don’t think that matters.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s