Ever since July 2023, a new World ID user has been verified every eight seconds, according to Worldcoin co-founder Sam Altman.
After a lackluster launch, the offer of getting WLD tokens, a type of digital currency, in exchange for an iris scan has taken off, and a growing number of governments are expressing concerns about it.
In the U.K., the Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating WorldCoin over its data handling and processing.
“Organisations must conduct a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) before starting any processing that is likely to result in high risk, such as processing special category biometric data. Where they identify high risks that they cannot mitigate, they must consult the ICO,” the U.K. watchdog said in a statement. “We note the launch of WorldCoin in the UK and will be making enquiries.”
In Germany, the Bavarian State Office for Data Protection (BayLDA) launched an investigation into Worldcoin in November 2022. It has concerns over data collection processes, especially concerning biometric data. Its President, Michael Will, said the technology was neither “established nor well analyzed” and could lead to risk for users.
France, too, has its concerns. The National Commission of Informatics and Liberty dubbed Worldcoin’s data collection methods questionable from a legal standpoint. “The legality of this collection seems questionable, as do the conditions for storing biometric data,” it told Reuters in an email.
Central to all of these concerns is the notion that Worldcoin, based in the Cayman Islands, has simply begun collecting sensitive biometric data of citizens without any permission from authorities in the relevant nations and with seeming disregard for regulations related to data collection, processing, and protection. Expect more nations to follow the U.K., France, and Germany in closely examining what Worldcoin is up to.
What does Worldcoin say about all of this?
Worldcoin says that the biometric data collected is stored on a decentralized blockchain. The World ID system uses zero-knowledge proofs to verify human users without revealing the data itself, it says.
What’s the purpose of this? It’s what Sam Altman calls “Proof of Personhood.” In an AI age where it will be increasingly difficult to tell the difference between humans and bots, Worldcoin’s system will allow us to verify that we’re interacting or dealing with a real person, it claims. Altman should know all about the dangers of AI—he’s the CEO of OpenAI, which recently released the popular chatbot ChatGPT.
In the World ID system, users are given WLD tokens after scanning their iris with an Orb. These devices are set up in more than 70 locations all over the world. After verification, users will receive their tokens and will have access to the World App wallet and the financial services available in it.
Worldcoin has been criticized by governments, as noted above, but also by privacy activists, cybersecurity experts, and others. The MIT Technology Review accused Worldcoin of using “deceptive marketing practices” and said it collects more personal data than it acknowledges and failed to obtain meaningful consent.
Having raised $115 million in May, Worldcoin appears to be yet another Silicon Valley-funded tech firm determined to collect even more private data without any regard for the laws and regulations of nations. Thankfully, and perhaps just in time, Bitcoin is restoring power to the people by returning the data to its rightful owner: the user.
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