Kenya has suspended all Worldcoin activities in the country as it investigates concerns about data safety and the integrity of the project’s financial transactions.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki announced the suspension on Wednesday, a week after the project’s official launch.
The government has suspended the activities of Worldcoin in Kenya until relevant agencies in Kenya establish their are no risks to the general public: pic.twitter.com/FuPhNtw2Ht
— Mwango Capital (@MwangoCapital) August 2, 2023
“The government has suspended forthwith, activities of ‘WORLD COIN’ and any other entity that may be similarly engaging the people of Kenya until relevant state agencies certify the absence of any risks to the general public whatsoever,” Kindiki stated.
The minister added that relevant financial services, security, and data protection agencies are probing the company to establish the legality of its activities in the country.
The suspension comes just days after Kenya’s top data watchdog warned against the controversial iris-scanning project. In a statement on Friday, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) urged Kenyans to “thoroughly inquire about how their data will be used.”
“As the ODPC conducts its assessment of Worldcoin’s practices to ensure compliance with the law, Kenyans are urged to ensure that they receive proper information before disclosing any personal or sensitive data,” said the agency.
While the ODPC now claims to be assessing Worldcoin, it registered the company as a data processor months ago.
Kenya’s Capital Markets Authority (CMA) has also issued its warning, claiming that Worldcoin is not regulated in Kenya.
CAUTIONARY STATEMENT ON WORLDCOIN pic.twitter.com/DS7hLrjeeb
— Capital Markets Authority Kenya (@CMAKenya) August 2, 2023
The warnings have done little to dissuade thousands of Kenyans who have been queueing up in shopping malls to scan their irises.
Worldcoin dangles ‘free money’ to lure millions
Worldcoin’s popularity has shot up since it launched its WLD token on July 24. However, the project has been recruiting new users in Kenya for several months. Before the token launched, the local Worldcoin team lured potential users with promises of universal basic income.
“With artificial intelligence taking up more jobs, the upcoming WLD token will allow the biggest corporates to redistribute this wealth to the poor in Kenya and elsewhere,” local Worldcoin officials were pitching as far back as January.
Then the WLD token launched, and Worldcoin took off in Kenya. New signups received 25 WLD tokens worth Kshs. 8,500 ($60) at press time. This, according to one study, is over half the average monthly pay for low-income earners in the country.
The news of ‘free money’ spread quickly through social media channels, including TikTok, WhatsApp, and Telegram. Days later, thousands were queuing for hours to get their irises scanned, with little regard to what would happen to this data after they get their tokens.
Worldcoin: How Kenyans are scanning their eyes to register to get Ksh.7K pic.twitter.com/UdlpqX119y
— Citizen TV Kenya (@citizentvkenya) August 1, 2023
The demand was so high that Worldcoin was requested by security agencies to shift operations to malls outside the city center as the vast numbers were a security concern. In just one week, World App, the project’s Android app, became the most downloaded app on the country’s Google Play Store.
For most of the signups, data safety is the least of their concerns. Most aren’t even aware of who Worldcoin founders Sam Altman and Alex Blania are, nor do they care about the promises of a utopian world the two founders promise. With Kenya battling an economic crisis as the cost of living skyrockets, the jobless and low-income youth are happy to trade their data for quick ‘free’ money.
Local digital asset firms have also latched on to leverage the opportunity. Some are offering quick cash-outs for WLD with fiat at a premium, and with the average Worldcoin signup uninterested in holding a digital asset, they are making a killing.
While Kenya has suspended Worldcoin, the project is still collecting data from hundreds of thousands of people in India, Indonesia, Chile, Hong Kong, and elsewhere.
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