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Palm-scanning Humanity Protocol emerges as new kid on the blockchain

Firm uses palm biometrics as basis for universal digital identity scheme
Palm-scanning Humanity Protocol emerges as new kid on the blockchain

Worldcoin has thus far been the most high profile project pursuing biometric digital identity on a global scale, but its status is being challenged by Humanity Protocol, a new venture that relies on palm biometrics for its blockchain-based digital identity system. The company has announced a valuation of $1 billion in a $30 million seed funding round led by Kingsway Capital. Web3 investment companies Animoca Brands and Blockchain.com and venture firm Shima Capital also participated. Funds will support hiring and development costs ahead of a test release later in 2024.

“Identity is a fundamental right,” says text on Humanity Protocol’s website. “And in this current age of data dominance among a handful of corporations and artificial intelligence, it is under threat.” The firm’s proof of humanity (PoH) concept is similar to Wordcoin’s World ID proof of personhood (PoP), except instead of scanning irises with an orb, Humanity Protocol scans palms and stores them in a decentralized system, enabling self-sovereign identity (SSI). It claims its palm scanning system is less invasive than face biometrics or iris scans.

“The world needs a truly self-sovereign identity framework that is built on first principles of inclusivity, privacy, and decentralization,” writes Terence Kwok, founder of Humanity Protocol, in a post on Medium. “Proof-of-personhood is a powerful concept but the solutions that exist today haven’t seen adoption because onboarding is invasive and high friction. Humanity Protocol fixes this. We’re creating a decentralized identity protocol that solves verifiable uniqueness and humanity in a way that protects user privacy and self-ownership of data.” Kwok wants users to be able to check into hotels, access restricted areas and pay for purchases with their palm, while maintaining maximum control over their personal identity data.

Yat Siu, executive chairman of Animoca Brands, says “traditional proof-of-personhood methods often come with drawbacks, whether they’re too invasive, complicated, or cumbersome. Humanity Protocol is revolutionizing the authentication process with its user-centric approach which ensures a seamless experience, allowing billions to access a decentralized digital identity solution. By upholding the principles of genuine digital ownership, we’re fostering equity and inclusion, empowering every participant in the journey towards a more inclusive digital future.”

They are familiar claims. Worldcoin and its parent company, Tools for Humanity, have also anchored their pitch in themes like equity and inclusion. Both firms suffer the myopia of tech entrepreneurs unable to see the contradiction in branding the idea of “integrating our physical and digital selves” – still, for many in the general public, a conceptual boogeyman that conjures images from The Matrix – as a fundamentally human project. And both, ultimately, are anchored in the world of cryptocurrency: Worldcoin has notoriously given away free WLD tokens in exchange for iris scans, and Humanity Protocol is planning to launch a still-unnamed crypto token. Skepticism from governments and rights watchdogs is to be expected.

Yet there is buy-in from the public. Humanity Protocol already has a waitlist of about 500,000. Its first phase will run through mobile phone cameras to collect palm print scans, while a second phase will roll out an external infrared camera which can be connected to a phone to perform palm vein scans. (It is also not the only firm pursuing palm biometrics for proof of personhood.)

Ultimately, a direct competitor for Worldcoin could end up cutting into its market share. But if Humanity Protocol finds itself on the wrong end of the compliance stick, it might create a villain to replace Worldcoin as public enemy number one in the eyes of global data regulators.

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