Kenya suspends Worldcoin over privacy concerns
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The Kenyan government has suspended all activities associated with Sam Altman's cryptocurrency project Worldcoin to assess the risk of data breaches.
Kenya has become the first country to fully suspend Worldcoin, the new cryptocurrency project launched by OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman.
Worldcoin is based on the creation of a World ID, which the company describes as a “digital passport” to prove that its holder is a real human. To get a World ID, a customer signs up for an in-person eye scan using Worldcoin's “orb”, which is intended to check that the user is not a bot.
This technology has raised privacy concerns among several public administrations, but Kenya has been the first country to take action on the matter.
Kithure Kindiki, the Kenyan interior minister, said the government was troubled by the company’s collection of private data. Kenya has therefore decided to suspend the company's activities until it can be investigated by financial, security and data protection services.
“The Government is concerned by the ongoing activities of an organization calling itself ‘WORLD COIN’ which is involved in the registration of citizens through the collection of eyeball/iris data,” said the statement signed by Kindiki and posted on Facebook.
“Relevant security, financial services and data protection agencies have commenced inquiries and investigations to establish the authenticity and legality of the aforesaid activities.”
According to local media sources, over 350,000 Kenyans had signed up for Worldcoin by the time the announcement was made. In exchange, they received free cryptocurrency tokens worth around 7,000 Kenyan shillings (around £39).
Kenya is not the only country that has raised concerns about Worldcoin’s storage of personal data. Regulators in the UK, France and Germany have opened investigations into the company.
In July, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) revealed it would be “making enquiries”, and that firms must perform a data protection impact assessment before beginning any processing, especially if dealing with high-risk categories such as biometric data.
Worldcoin has claimed that the biometric data collected from the iris scans will be protected through encryption technology and then deleted. The company has also said that it would cooperate with governments’ request for information over its data protection policies.
A company spokesperson said: “The demand for Worldcoin’s proof of personhood verification services in Kenya has been overwhelming, resulting in tens of thousands of individuals waiting in lines over a three-day period to secure a World ID. Out of an abundance of caution and in an effort to mitigate crowd volume, verification services have been temporarily paused.
"During the pause, the team will develop an onboarding program that encompasses more robust crowd control measures and work with local officials to increase understanding of the privacy measures and commitments Worldcoin implements, not only in Kenya, but everywhere.
"Worldcoin remains committed to providing an inclusive, privacy-preserving, decentralized on-ramp to the global digital economy and looks forward to resuming its services in Kenya while working closely with local regulators and other stakeholders.”
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