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Worldcoin: The crypto project looking to take on the world with its iris-based ID tech

An orb, a spherical iris scanning device used by Worldcoin.
An orb, a spherical iris scanning device used by Worldcoin. Copyright Damian Dovarganes/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Damian Dovarganes/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Camille BelloReuters
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The cryptocurrency project with an iris-based identity verification system intends to allow companies and governments access to its cutting-edge ID technology.

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Worldcoin, the new cryptocurrency project co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, is preparing to broaden its global presence.

The creator of widely popular chatbot ChatGPT is looking to sign-up more users globally to use its cutting-edge iris-scanning and identity-verifying technology, a senior manager for the company told Reuters.

Having made its official debut last month, the innovative Worldcoin project requires users to give their iris scans in exchange for a digital ID and, in some countries, even a free cryptocurrency bonus as an incentive to create an "identity and financial network".

"We are on this mission of building the biggest financial and identity community that we can," said Ricardo Macieira, general manager for Europe at Tools For Humanity, the San Francisco and Berlin-based company developing the technology.

2.2 million users worldwide - Worldcoin

In spite of recent turbulence within the crypto sector, which recently suffered from the spectacular collapse of FTX and other major platform bankruptcies, Worldcoin says 2.2 million users have signed up, mostly during a trial period over the last two years.

In sign-up sites around the world, people have been eagerly getting their eyes scanned by a shiny spherical "orb," shrugging off privacy campaigners' concerns that the biometric data could be misused.

Mexico is one of nearly three dozen countries where participants are allowing the sphere, outfitted with cameras and dubbed an orb, to scan their iris.

“I’m feeling a bit nervous because I don’t know for certain what they will do with my biometrics and my personal information. But at the same time, I’m excited about being part of something very different that I think will be part of a change in the economy,” Worldcoin user Diego Romero told Reuters in Mexico City.

“This [privacy] is something that doesn’t worry me too much,” added Jose Incera, another user in Mexico’s capital.

“I think in the digital era we’re living it is unavoidable to start sharing your information; from having an iPhone or any social media, you’re already sharing a lot of information. Then, the difference with the World ID is not that big but I think it’s even more secure,” he added.

Macieira said Worldcoin would continue rolling out operations in Europe, Latin America, Africa and "all the parts of the world that will accept us".

AI and crypto for universal minimum income

Altman and his co-founder, Alex Blania, say the ambitions of the project extend far beyond the realm of digital currency,

“If successful, we believe Worldcoin could drastically increase economic opportunity, scale a reliable solution for distinguishing humans from AI online while preserving privacy, enable global democratic processes, and eventually show a potential path to AI-funded UBI (Universal minimum income),” the pair said in a statement on the company’s website.

The concept of a universal minimum income has gained traction among influential figures in Silicon Valley as a response to the looming threat many jobs being replaced by artificial intelligence (AI).

Privacy concerns around the promising technology

Worldcoin's audacious aspirations have not been without their share of scrutiny.

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Regulators and privacy campaigners have raised concerns about Worldcoin's data collection, including whether users are giving informed consent and whether one company should be responsible for handling the data.

The Bavarian State Office for Data Protection Supervision in Germany, which has jurisdiction in the European Union because Tools For Humanity has an office there, said it started investigating Worldcoin in November 2022 because of concerns about its large-scale processing of sensitive data.

Data watchdogs in Britain, France, and Germany have also said they are looking into the project.

Addressing privacy concerns, the Worldcoin Foundation, a Cayman Islands-based entity, said in a statement 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.

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Worldcoin's website says the project is "completely private" and that the biometric data is either deleted or users can opt to have it stored in encrypted form.

Video editor • Aisling Ní Chúláin

Additional sources • Reuters

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