Worldcoin boom hits a wall in Kenya, despite CEO’s pleas
Worldcoin continues to push its iris-scanning biometric capture system in Kenya. This week it was reported that Alex Blania, the CEO of Worldcoin parent company Tools for Humanity, told a parliamentary Ad hoc committee that the government’s digital ID program would be well served to adopt iris biometrics for identity verification, just as Worldcoin does with its iris-scanning device, the Orb, to provide proof of personhood.
“We understand that these Smart ID cards are expected to incorporate and require retention of greater amounts of sensitive biometric information (iris, face, and fingerprint templates) than the Orb-based verification approach used in relation to World ID,” said Blania, according to a report in The Star.
Blania’s suggestion comes in response to questions from the government about Worldcoin’s project, after it came to light that the company had not sought approval from Kenya’s Business Registration Services before initiating activities in the country, wherein they collected thousands of iris scans by offering 25 Worldcoin tokens per scan. Both Blania and Tools for Humanity’s chief legal officer Thomas Scott argued that, while Worldcoin and its World ID program may be available in Kenya, the company is technically not doing business there.
Blania said Worldcoin had done no wrong, and that the company had been petitioning the Data Commissioner for over 18 months to acquire a license. Regardless, it was confirmed during the hearing that the Data Commissioner officially revoked the company’s license on September 5.
Data mining and the protection of personal biometric data remains a major point of contention. Some lawmakers had harsh words for the company, insinuating possible criminal behaviour. Others pointed to the impact of an irregular influx of currency into the Kenyan economy.
But lawyer Thomas Scott defended Worldcoin’s practices, saying there was no malicious intent.
“For the avoidance of doubt,” he said, “Worldcoin does not and never will involve the collection or selling of data. No one – not even Tools for Humanity – can link biometric data to World ID. Further, the majority of the internal schematics and technical details of the technology are publicly available on the internet for everyone to review.”
Blania also argued that biometrics are widely adopted by both pubic and private sector organizations, and were an obvious choice for Worldcoin as “the most scalable and fraud-resistant approach that also preserved privacy.”
Nonetheless, legal and governmental regulations may not be the end of Worldcoin’s headaches in Kenya. Local media reports have surfaced of Kenyans who had their irises scanned in exchange for Worldcoin tokens experiencing eye problems following their scan. Others have accused the company of short-changing them compensation. While these remain unproven allegations, they will not improve the company’s reputation with Kenyan lawmakers.
Furthermore, according to Technext, data shows that the expected return for over 98.5 percent of Worldcoin token holders has decreased, and that the $WLD token has lost about 52 percent of its market value in one month.