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Kenya suspends Worldcoin that relies on eye scans of users over privacy concerns as Britain prepares to make inquiries

Kenya suspended the Worldcoin crypto project today, on 2 August, that relies on an eye scan to verify a user’s identity, citing concerns about data protection.

Worldcoin, set up by OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman, began operating in June in Germany and provides users with a private digital identity — a “World ID” — after they get their eye’s unique iris pattern scanned.

The project, according to its founders, aims to solve one of the main challenges facing the crypto industry that largely relies on pseudonyms to operate, leaving it vulnerable to spam bots and scams.

Users who registered with the project in Kenya were offered 25 free Worldcoin tokens worth about 7,000 shillings ($45), drawing thousands of people to multiple sign-up points in the capital Nairobi.

Interior minister Kithure Kindiki said authorities were “concerned” by the project and launched investigations to ascertain “the safety and protection of the data being harvested, and how the harvesters intend to use the data”.

“The government has suspended forthwith, activities of ‘Worldcoin’ and any other entity that may be similarly engaging the people of Kenya until relevant public agencies certify the absence of any risks,” Kindiki said.

Kenya is one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but about a third of the population lives in poverty.

The country has been battling soaring inflation and a jobs crisis, particularly among the young, prompting many people to flock to register with Worldcoin in exchange for cash.

There was no immediate response from Worldcoin to an AFP request for reaction to Kenya’s suspension.

The project is already under scrutiny for running afoul of strict data privacy rules in Europe.

“Worldcoin has begun to collect data in France… which seems questionable as does the conservation of biometric data,” France’s CNIL data regulator told AFP last week.

After conducting an initial review, CNIL said it identified its counterpart in the German state of Bavaria as the lead agency in Europe to conduct a probe into Worldcoin, and said it supports their investigation.

More than 2.1 million people have signed up for Worldcoin across the world, with iris scans conducted in 34 countries, according to the company’s website.

Worldcoin is now trading at $2.37, up from the initial price of $1.70, according to CoinMarketCap.

Britain to make inquiries

Britain’s data regulator said on 25 July it will examine Worldcoin, a project by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman where users provide their iris scans in exchange for a digital identification and free cryptocurrency.

“We note the launch of WorldCoin in the UK and will be making further enquiries,” a spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office told Reuters.

Worldcoin launched on 24 July with two million users from its trial, with the crypto project scaling up eyeball-scanning operations in 20 countries, including at sites in London.

Described on its website as a “new identity and financial network”, the Worldcoin project assigns people who sign up a digital ID which it says would distinguish humans from artificial intelligence online.

Its cryptocurrency, called the Worldcoin token, will be allocated to users who sign up in some countries, according to the website.

The Worldcoin token initially rose after its launch on Monday, hitting a peak of $3.30, and on Tuesday was at $2.01 according to market tracker CoinGecko.

(Source: Insider Paper and Reuters)

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