Kenya stops Worldcoin data collection over privacy and security concerns
Kenya was one of the early adopters of Worldcoin, a startup that aims to create a new "human identity and financial network" through eye scans and its cryptocurrency. But it is now considering banning the project.
The country's Ministry of the Interior has suspended Worldcoin's enrollment, citing concerns about the authenticity, legality, security, financial services, and data protection offered by the company. The suspension also covers any other entity engaging Kenyan citizens in similar activities until authorities can ensure there are no risks to the public.
Before the suspension, Kenya had a significant number of venues, called "Orbs," where people could verify their World ID using the company's spherical and mirrored iris scanners. However, the overwhelming response from Kenyans led the operators to move their stations to a larger venue, Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), to accommodate the influx of people.
The Worldcoin Foundation, co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, named the suspension as temporary. It added that it would use this time to develop better onboarding processes and address concerns raised by Kenyan officials regarding privacy and data protection.
Worldcoin registers "verified humans" by scanning their eyeballs through Orbs, and it has been incentivising users with "free" crypto tokens. The company plans to create an app that links these global IDs and currency, enabling payments, purchases, and transfers using its tokens and other cryptocurrencies.
After the official global launch, locals who received the tokens were able to sell them on crypto exchanges or to brokers for cash. The promise of "free money" spread quickly, leading to a surge in people visiting Orb stations, which caught the attention of government agencies.
The suspension raises concerns about the effect on Worldcoin tokens circulation in the country, as they join the gray market surrounding cryptocurrency in emerging economies.
Critics in the technology industry have raised concerns about Worldcoin's practices, its biometric database building using free cryptocurrency offers, and the potential exploitation of economically disadvantaged people. Kenya's Office of the Data Protection Commissioner was already doing an evaluation of Worldcoin's practices in the country to ensure compliance with laws.
Despite these issues, Worldcoin is expanding, with registration ongoing in 35 cities, and the company enrolling over half a million people in the last seven days. They aim to reach three million users.