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Quartz Weekend Brief—Online identity, peak banana, luxury privacy, stupid names

By Gideon Lichfield
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Russian troops take over Crimea! Rubbish, said Vladimir Putin: “Local self-defense forces.” Bitcoin’s inventor, the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, is really a man called Satoshi Nakamoto! Nonsense, said the real Nakamoto; he’d never before heard of “bitcom.” The man behind spoof Twitter gossip account @GSElevator never worked for Goldman Sachs! Yet in fact, his true identity was hiding in plain sight for months.

It seems that even in our hyper-surveilled and sharing-obsessed world, identity remains a fraught and nebulous thing. Putin used the confusion over what was really happening in Crimea to the fullest to steal a march on the West. The Nakamoto unmasked in Los Angeles might be telling the truth—online, an account linked more or less definitively with the bitcoin creator piped up to say he wasn’t that Nakamoto—or it might all be a ruse to keep himself out of the spotlight. And @GSElevator’s book deal mysteriously evaporated after he was outed.

Identities are increasingly central to the internet economy, since whoever manages your online identity for you manages your data, and thus acts as your broker for a growing number of services. Identifying and profiling online users could soon be an industry worth tens of billions of dollars.

Some think that means that, as people’s online identities fill out with real data about them, anonymity will gradually vanish. But as all three of the above cases show, there’s always demand for fake, fudged or invented identities. And where there’s demand, there’ll be another industry around it.—Gideon Lichfield

Five things on Quartz we especially liked

The basic weakness behind China’s water mega-project. A network of pipes and aqueducts will pump a River Thames-worth of water across 4,300 kilometers (2,700 miles) to alleviate shortages. Yet this example of the Chinese government’s power also highlights its inability to impose better water husbandry, writes Lily Kuo, in a special report from China’s heartland that also looks at the impact on hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

We’re approaching peak banana. A menacing fungus, Tropical Race 4, threatens 85% of the global banana crop, a subsistence food for many people. Gwynn Guilford looks into how the industry’s monoculture farming practices made bananas a sitting target for the fungus—and how other crops are similarly threatened.

The future of TV is looking pretty great. It will have “personal TV subscriptions,” be cheaper (though not that cheap), be better organized, and those horrendous remote controls that nobody can operate will go away. Zachary M. Seward peers over the horizon.

Russian and Western strategy on Ukraine. Steve LeVine on why Western countries should attack Russia economically using oil not gas, and how Putin wrong-footed them because they didn’t listen closely enough. Gwynn Guilford shows how suprisingly deep the east-west divide in Ukraine goes, Jason Karaian analyzes the four charts Putin should be looking at, and Brett Arends explains how to make a killing on Russian stocks.

Eleven apps that are the key to productivity. A big obstacle to productivity, argues Sidin Vadukut, is that you’re managing many pieces of information which may be relevant for anything from minutes to months. He outlines how he uses a combination of apps to marshal information so it’s always in front of him when he needs it.

Five things elsewhere that made us smarter

How the West contributed to the crisis in Crimea. Skip the first three-quarters of this article from the editors of n+1—unless you need a summary of the crisis so far, in which case it’s excellent—and read the part about how American intellectuals’ obsession with “Evil Putin” has exacerbated Russia’s paranoia and isolationism.

Privacy is now a luxury good. You can buy all sorts of tools and services to limit what companies and governments can learn about you online. Julia Angwin spent over $2,000 on them last year, and writes in the New York Times about their pitfalls, not least of which is: how do you know they’re doing what they promise?

Understanding China’s Chechnya. Last weekend’s knife massacre in Kunming was attributed to ethnic Uighurs from China’s western Xinjiang province. This 2009 article by James Palmer in the Asia Society’s Chinafile remains a classic and readable introduction to the roots of the tensions that have been building in Xinjiang for years.

The future of cars is in… Las Vegas? Tony Hsieh, founder of online shoe store Zappos, Tony Hsieh, is spending his $350 million personal wealth to turn Sin City into an entrepreneur’s experimental playground. Greg Lindsay in Atlantic Cities describes how one of his projects is to reinvent how people own and use cars.

Why companies love mis-spelling. From Chick-fil-A to Cheez Whiz, sometimes a firm puts great thought into a name that makes a mockery of normal conventions of writing. And sometimes not. The apostrophe in Lands’ End came from a printing mistake. At Slate, Matthew J.X. Malady investigates the weird art of naming.

Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, productivity apps, and ridiculous names to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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