Worldcoin iris biometrics cryptocurrency project launched by Sam Altman
Tech millionaire Sam Altman’s Worldcoin start-up has emerged from stealth mode, offering free cryptocurrency to individuals who verify their accounts by taking an iris scan via a dedicated biometric device.
At the time of writing, and days after its official launch, Worldcoin’s valuation has already reached $1 billion, after substantial investments from Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase, and LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman.
The start-up was founded by Altman, together with theoretical physics student Alex Blania and investment expert Max Novendstern.
Worldcoin has already shipped its orb-shaped iris biometric devices to testers in 12 countries, with over 100,000 users globally already, and reportedly 700 more each week.
The biometric scanner captures and encrypts an image of users’ irises, which is then encrypted and converted to a unique code in exchange for a free share of Worldcoin’s cryptocurrency.
According to the startup, the original data is then deleted to protect users’ privacy.
“We designed the whole system to be fundamentally privacy-preserving. The iris code itself is the only thing leaving the orb. There’s no big database of biometric data,” Blania explained. He said the firm chose to use biometrics to circumvent fraud attempts against the system.
In terms of Worldcoin’s goal, the startup said it currently intends to create a digital wallet that lets users store their crypto and make payments.
However, the company also explained they aim to build an infrastructure that developers can use to further develop a global cryptocurrency ecosystem.
The concept also builds on Altman’s idea of a universal basic income (UBI), which would enable governments to mitigate the impact of artificial intelligence and automation on workers. Worldcoin believes one billion people will use its Orb by 2023.
According to Coindesk, the company has signed up an international manufacturing partner to build 50,000 iris biometrics-scanning orbs per year.
Worldcoin’s data collection sparks privacy concerns
Despite the company’s clarifications that its biometric collection system respects users’ privacy, Worldcoin’s Orb devices have recently attracted the attention of privacy advocates.
The same section of the document also mentions how this data could be shared with “third parties who have a legitimate purpose for accessing it.”
Twitter users have also criticized the structure behind the token allocation, saying it goes against the project’s public ethos of “fair distribution to as many people as possible.”
Of the ten billion ‘Worldcoins’ currently available, an estimated two billion will be reportedly used to create a ‘Worldcoin Foundation’ and allocate tokens amongst investors.