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South Korea privacy regulator to investigate Worldcoin’s biometrics handling

South Korea privacy regulator to investigate Worldcoin’s biometrics handling
 

Another government is raising an eyebrow at Worldcoin’s iris biometrics bonanza. The Republic of Korea’s Personal Information Protection Committee (PIPC) has launched an investigation to follow up on allegations about the collection and processing of personal biometric data by Sam Altman’s digital ID and crypto side project potentially falling afoul of local laws.

A government release “confirmed that Worldcoin affiliates are currently collecting facial and iris recognition information at about ten locations in Korea.” The locations are not specified.

The PIPC says its investigations will cover “the overall collection and processing of sensitive information and overseas transfer of personal information under the Personal Information Protection Act.” Violations will face consequences, “in accordance with relevant laws and regulations.”

In other words, if regulators find Worldcoin is breaking South Korea’s data protection laws, it could face the same hostility it encountered in several other countries where it set up data collection operations with its mobile iris scanner, the Orb. In January, Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner staged raids on Worldcoin’s offices, citing similar concerns about data privacy laws. Kenya was among the first nations to raise flags about the collection of iris biometrics in exchange for free crypto tokens; authorities there raided local Worldcoin offices in August 2023. Authorities have not found the company guilty of legal or regulatory violations thus far, though Hong Kong’s investigation remains open.

Regardless, Worldcoin and its parent company, Tools for Humanity, press on. Kenyan operations are set to re-start in 2024. This week, Tools for Humanity acquired the digital wallet startup Ottr Finance, for inclusion on its World App. And the Worldcoin Foundation, a non-profit arm incorporated in the Cayman Islands with the goal of stewarding the growth of the Worldcoin protocol and its associated ecosystem, recently awarded the first grants through its Worldcoin Community Grants Program. The total number of World ID enrolments keeps growing; the tracker on Worldcoin’s website is fast approaching four million unique registered identities (and iris scans). And the value of WLD is climbing.

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