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Worldcoin cryptocurrency drives digital ID enrollment despite ‘potential privacy nightmare’

Worldcoin cryptocurrency drives digital ID enrollment despite ‘potential privacy nightmare’
 

After launching its cryptocurrency on Monday, Worldcoin users across the world have been lining up to get their irises scanned and digital IDs created in exchange for free tokens.

The company has been seen scanning eyeballs through its Orb devices in Britain, Japan, India and other countries, despite warnings from digital rights organizations that its data collection presents a “potential privacy nightmare,” Reuters reports.

Worldcoin, founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, is on a mission to enroll each human into its World ID digital identity and give them some of its cryptocurrency. The iris scans are used during enrollment to confirm that the user is indeed human while remaining anonymized. Worldcoin says it has issued digital IDs for more than two million people in 120 countries with its Orbs currently operating in over 35 cities across more than 20 countries.

The company will reportedly hand out 25 Worldcoin tokens to verified users which are currently valued at $0.0186, according to CoinMarketCap. But privacy organizations such as the U.S.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) are arguing that despite receiving free tokens, users are paying a high price for the potential risks of hacking and exploiting their biometric data.

“Mass collections of biometrics like Worldcoin threaten people’s privacy on a grand scale, both if the company misuses the information it collects, and if that data is stolen,” says EPIC counsel Jake Wiener. “Ultimately, Worldcoin wants to become the default digital ID and a global currency without democratic buy-in at the start, that alone is a compelling reason not to turn over your biometrics, personal information and geolocation data to a private company.”

But Worldcoin says it does not have a mass collection of biometrics from everyone who has used the Orb.

UK privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch has also criticized the project, with senior advocacy officer Madeleine Stone arguing that digital ID systems “increase state and corporate control over individuals’ lives.”

Worldcoin claims that the images of the user and their iris pattern are permanently deleted after signing up, unless users opt-in to allow them to be stored in the system as training data. The training data is not connected to Worldcoin tokens, transactions or World ID, the company says.

Worldcoin Co-founder Alex Blania explained to CoinDesk that the company set out to find a way other than using iris biometrics to verify each person’s uniqueness and humanity. “But it really was the only solution,” he says.

Ethereum Founder Vitalik Buterin has assessed the project as doing “quite a decent job of protecting privacy,” but raises concerns about centralized control.

The project is also drawing attention from regulators such as the UK Information Commissioner Office which promised it will be making further inquiries into Woldcoin’s launch in the country, Reuters reports in another article. Worldcoin has emphasized that its tokens will not be made available in the U.S. citing regulatory uncertainty.

The company behind the project, Tools For Humanity raised $115 million in series C venture funding in May.

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