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Worldcoin’s Hong Kong premises raided in ‘proactive’ look into breach of data privacy laws

Worldcoin’s Hong Kong premises raided in ‘proactive’ look into breach of data privacy laws
 

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data in Hong Kong has staged raids on multiple locations used for identity verification by iris biometrics firm Worldcoin, objecting to its scheme to offer crypto tokens to anyone willing to have their irises scanned. The Standard reports that Worldcoin offices in Yau Ma Tei, Kwun Tong, Wan Chai, Cyberport, Central and Causeway Bay saw raids from the privacy watchdog, in what senior personal data officer Lo Dik-fan calls a proactive investigation into potential contravention of regulations related to collecting sensitive personal data.

“The office is concerned that the operation of Worldcoin in Hong Kong involves serious risks to personal data privacy,” says Lo, as quoted in the South China Morning Post. The Privacy Commissioner’s office has stated its intention to identify anyone who volunteered for an iris scan in exchange for ten WLD tokens (approximately HK$19.55, US$2.50 each) and to question Worldcoin’s leadership about its protocol for obtaining consent.

The Privacy Commissioner’s office has no formal authority to suspend Worldcoin’s operations in Hong Kong. However, the raids are the latest in what has become a series of familiar stories about governments alarmed to find Worldcoin setting up shop in their jurisdiction, with no clear idea what the company intends to do with the iris biometric data they collect. Apparently erring on the side of caution, Lo Dik-fan has called on citizens of Hong Kong to avoid non-governmental activities that collect sensitive personal data.

Worldcoin, the firm founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Sam Altman and Alex Blania, is aware that it has something of an image problem, as evidenced by recent moves to redesign its iris scanner, a five-pound mirrored sphere called the Orb, into something less like a Star Trek weapon and more like a beloved Apple product. The reimagined Orb is set to debut sometime in the first half of 2024.

“Worldcoin was established to help create access and participation in the global digital economy while preserving privacy. Worldcoin does not seek to know who a person is, just that they are human and unique. As such, any information used to verify unique humanness is promptly deleted by default,” a Worldcoin Foundation representative told Biometric Update in an emailed statement.

“Worldcoin welcomes regulators, including the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD), and consumers to inquire and seek information or clarifications about its programs available to the people in their communities, cities, countries or regions. The Worldcoin Foundation is committed to full compliance with all relevant laws and regulations governing the processing of personal data in the markets where Worldcoin operates. This includes, but is not limited to, The Hong Kong Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance.”

This post was updated at 10:54am Eastern on February 1, 2024 to correct the number of WLD tokens offered to verified individuals, add the statement from Worldcoin Foundation and clarify the locations searched by police.

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