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Worldcoin Ordered to Cease Operations in Hong Kong Over Privacy Compliance Issues

Shalini Nagarajan
Last updated: | 1 min read
Worldcoin Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog on Wednesday instructed OpenAI founder Sam Altman’s Worldcoin project to halt all activities in the region. This includes scanning and collecting iris and facial images from the public using iris-scanning devices.

After initiating an investigation into Worldcoin’s practices earlier this year, Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner concluded the company broke data privacy laws.

The privacy office said it quietly visited Worldcoin’s locations six times between December and January. By late January, officials raided those locations with warrants to gather evidence.

A spokesperson told Cryptonews that the Worldcoin Foundation was disappointed by the views Hong Kong’s regulatory authorities shared.

“In an effort to prepare humanity for the age of AI, the Foundation continues to raise the privacy bar through data minimization, user control over data and advanced technology such as personal custody, iris code deletion, and secure multi-party computation,” the spokesperson added. “Unfortunately, the authorities in Hong Kong overlooked these aspects in their evaluation of the humanness verification process.”

Hong Kong Privacy Watchdog Slams Digital ID Project Over Excessive Data, Unfair Practices

The watchdog found that Worldcoin offered free cryptocurrency in Hong Kong. But to get it, people had to undergo iris scans and facial recognition to prove they were real people. This raised privacy concerns, and investigators found that over 8,000 people had their scans taken during its operation.

After considering the circumstances, Hong Kong’s privacy chief, Ada Chung, ruled that Worldcoin’s operations violated the territory’s data protection laws. Further, the office determined that the collection of facial and iris images were “unnecessary and excessive.”

The investigation additionally revealed that the data collection system was unfair. Worldcoin allegedly failed to provide essential documents, such as the privacy notice and biometric data consent form, in Chinese, the primary language in Hong Kong. Furthermore, they neglected to inform participants about the potential risks associated with surrendering biometric data and did not address any inquiries raised.

Millions Downloaded World App Before Hong Kong Privacy Concerns

A Worldcoin spokesperson told Cryptonews in February that the project prioritizes adherence to applicable laws and regulations concerning personal information.

Worldcoin’s Hong Kong launch in July 2023 proved popular, attracting a significant user base. Within just six months, its crypto wallet app, World App, boasted over a million active users and surpassed 4m downloads.