Worldcoin Faces Criticism for Dubious Privacy Practices

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Worldcoin is a new cryptocurrency company co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman that requires users to give their iris scans in exchange for a digital ID and, in some countries, free cryptocurrency as part of plans to create an “identity and financial network.”

According to CTV News, the company intends to expand its operations to sign up more users globally and aims to allow other organizations to use its iris-scanning and identity-verifying technology.

Ricardo Macieira, a senior representative from the company explained that they aim to build an infrastructure and allow other third parties to use the technology, adding that the technology behind the iris-scanning orb will be open-source. “The idea is that anyone can in the future build their own orb and use it to benefit the community that it’s aiming for,” he said.

But many experts are concerned about Worldcoin’s data collection, wondering whether users are giving informed consent to the process and should one company even be responsible for handling such data.

Nevertheless, Worldcoin’s website claims that the project is “completely private” and that the biometric data is either deleted or users can opt to have it stored in encrypted form.

An investigation into the privacy practices of Worldcoin began in November 2022 by the Bavarian State Office for Data Protection Supervision, due to concerns about the company’s large-scale processing of sensitive data. They intend to look into whether Worldcoin’s system is “safe and stable”, saying that the project “requires very, very ambitious security measures and lots of explanations and transparency to ensure that data protection requirements are not neglected,” and adding that the people who hand over their data need “absolute clarity” about how and why it is processed.

Rainer Rehak, a researcher at the Weizenbaum Institute in Berlin has stated that Worldcoin’s use of technology is “irresponsible,” stating that “the bottom line is it’s a big project to create a new consumer base for Web3 and crypto products.”

Web3 is a term for a hypothetical next phase of the internet that is based around blockchain, in which users’ assets and data exist as tradable crypto assets.

In response to all the circulating privacy concerns, the Worldcoin Foundation released a statement saying that it complies with all laws governing personal data and will continue to cooperate with governing bodies’ requests for information about its privacy and data protection practices.