The Ministry of Interior and National Administration in Kenya has ordered the suspension of all Worldcoin activities in the country until further investigations are carried out by relevant public agencies. This move comes as concerns mount over the potential risks this cryptocurrency poses to the public, specifically in the area of data privacy.
Founded by Sam Altman, the brain behind OpenAI and the AI model ChatGPT, Worldcoin is a cryptocurrency venture leveraging iris-scanning technology. This unique approach claims it wants to guarantee the secure and unique distribution of digital tokens. It works by authenticating individual identities, averting potential fraud, and offering an infallible form of biometric security for token transactions. Yet, the handling and storage of such delicate biometric data have fueled considerable data privacy apprehensions, underscoring the urgent need for robust security protocols.
In Kenya, Worldcoin has been met with an overwhelming level of interest. Throngs of Kenyans, irrespective of their understanding or experience with cryptocurrency, have flocked to registration centres, forming extensive queues. Enticed by the prospect of receiving free tokens (estimated to be valued at KES 7,700), participants are asked to undergo an iris scan. This indiscriminate approach, however, has escalated concerns about potential misuse of personal data, as it attracts individuals with scant knowledge of cryptocurrency.
In response to the overwhelming demand, Worldcoin had previously announced plans to scale up its registration activities in Kenya. However, the Ministry of Interior has acted swiftly to halt these plans and has suspended all Worldcoin activities until potential risks to the public can be thoroughly evaluated.
This decision by the Interior Ministry echoes earlier warnings issued by Kenya’s data protection commissioner. The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) had urged Kenyans to exercise caution when providing personal data to Worldcoin, stressing the importance of data controllers processing personal data in compliance with the law.
Failure to process personal data lawfully could jeopardize individuals’ privacy and expose organizations to legal and reputational repercussions. The ODPC’s mandate is to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act, which is designed to safeguard the privacy of Kenyan citizens.
Despite Worldcoin’s ambitious mission, there are growing concerns and skepticism surrounding the cryptocurrency’s approach.
Foremost among these is the privacy concerns raised by critics, wary of Worldcoin’s use of eye-scanning technology to establish digital identity. The collection and storage of such sensitive biometric data requires robust security measures to protect against potential misuse.
Additionally, earlier on before the worldwide rollout some users reported issues with receiving tokens or accessing their wallets, raising concerns about Worldcoin’s distribution model. The current model could potentially lead to a small group of early adopters gaining a disproportionate amount of the token supply, skewing the entire distribution process. Especially with the situation in Kenya where people are getting the free tokens to immediately sell them.
Another bone of contention is the seeming contradiction between Worldcoin’s vision of creating an inclusive economy and the decentralized, trustless nature of blockchain technology. This has led some observers to question the motives behind the project, pointing to a level of centralization that appears at odds with the principles underlying most cryptocurrencies.
The suspension of Worldcoin activities in Kenya underlines the crucial importance of data privacy and highlights the potential risks of adopting novel technologies without thorough vetting. The future of Worldcoin in Kenya now hangs in the balance as authorities work to assess the potential implications of this digital initiative.