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Worldcoin Faces Global Regulatory Hurdles Amid Expansion

Trent Alan
Last updated: | 3 min read
worldcoin data privacy
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Recent developments around Worldcoin have reignited discussions on data privacy and the ethical implications of personal identification. The project’s audacious goal to grant everyone on Earth a biometrically verified digital ID has captured attention globally—and not always in a good way. 

With its rapid ascent, the platform faces significant challenges, as governments and experts scrutinize its methods and intentions. Let’s take a look at some of the main issues and concerns.

A Quick Recap on Worldcoin

Worldcoin launched on July 24 of this year, issuing its $WLD cryptocurrency token. Initially given to beta program participants, Worldcoin offered an airdrop of 25 $WLD (worth around $2.21 USD each at the time of launch) to people willing to undergo an iris scan. 

The company states its mission is to create a global system where anyone can verify their humanity online. To achieve this, they introduced the World ID, a unique identifier generated through an iris scan. 

This IrisCode acts as a one-time mark to ensure authenticity, and once issued, the ID is stored on the Worldcoin blockchain, ostensibly safeguarding user privacy. Simultaneously, the World App stores user credentials and doubles as a cryptocurrency wallet, facilitating transactions with $WLD.

As of August 11, over 2.2 million people have registered on the platform. But this rapid expansion hasn’t been without its share of controversy.

Tackling Privacy Concerns Head-on

The ethical ramifications of trading biometric data for cryptocurrency have been a central concern for many. Users willingly share their iris scans in exchange for WLD tokens. Critics argue that this model could exploit economically disadvantaged populations, luring them with the promise of easy money in exchange for sensitive data.

John Wu, president of Ava Labs, commented on the ongoing debate in a CNBC interview today, highlighting the global need for self-sovereign digital identity. 

“Having [a] privacy [focused] digital identity and having it to yourself, self-sovereign—meaning like self-custody—is a big theme in all of the world, not just in Web3,” he told CNBC. Wu also pointed out concerns about the token’s overseas airdrop practices, which affected the project’s perception.

Growing Global Concerns

On August 3, Kenya’s government, for one, took a decisive step against Worldcoin by banning its technology and raiding its Nairobi offices. Additionally, France, Germany, and the UK have initiated inquiries into Worldcoin’s operational model, emphasizing worries about the platform’s handling of highly sensitive user data.

In response, a Worldcoin spokesperson assured that the team is taking steps to improve their system. They told CNBC today that “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.”

Expert Opinions and the Road Ahead

While Worldcoin’s promise of a global digital identity has its supporters, skeptics aren’t hard to find. 

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Muvya Muthama, working in fraud prevention for the crypto exchange Yellow Card expressed concerns after reviewing Worldcoin’s whitepaper, stating, “I went into a restaurant for 3 hours, and I went through the whitepaper. When I continued to read all of that, I was like, this seemed a bit too dystopian for me.”

Additionally, Kenneth Byarugaba, a former “runner” for Worldcoin in Uganda, described his role in recruiting users and receiving commissions for each successful registration. 

“We would stop people in shopping malls, in universities, in walkways. Just stop someone, greet them, ask for a few minutes of their time, and explain the project.”

His perspective offers a glimpse into the aggressive expansion strategies Worldcoin employed, especially in developing regions.

Sam Altman’s Worldcoin project, with its current $3 billion valuation, remains a focal point in discussions surrounding digital identity. As Worldcoin continues its expansion, balancing ambition with ethical concerns will be paramount. 

The platform’s future will be shaped not only by its technological innovations but also by its ability to address legitimate global concerns about privacy and data protection.