Worldcoin launch sparks debate over data privacy and future of AI

August 3, 2023

By Sharan Kaur Phillora

Worldcoin, the contentious digital ID cryptocurrency project, officially launched on July 24 after three years of development, but it has been met with mixed reviews and significant scrutiny over data privacy.

Here’s what we know:

Co-founded by Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the project came into the limelight in June 2021, promising a futuristic digital identity system through iris scanning. Worldcoin aims to create a digital ID, termed “World ID,” that differentiates humans from bots by verifying individuals’ irises.

The firm assures that all biometric data will be stored on a decentralized blockchain without saving any personal data. Worldcoin generated over 2 million signups prior to its public launch and secured $115 million in funding in May, despite lingering controversy.

The Worldcoin ecosystem, consisting of the World ID and the Worldcoin (WLD) token, offers a privacy-focused digital identity. To obtain a World ID, users undergo biometric verification using a device known as an “Orb.” Once verified, users receive a unique World ID and WLD tokens where legal.

The digital ID ecosystem also includes the World App, a wallet offering decentralized finance services that also houses the unique World ID generated by the iris scan. 

Additionally, several leading cryptocurrency exchanges have listed the WLD token.

Critics, including Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, have voiced concerns over the method used to create World IDs. MIT Technology Review reported that Worldcoin engaged in “deceptive marketing practices,” mainly targeting developing countries where data and privacy laws are not as stringent.

Responding to these concerns, a Worldcoin spokesperson insisted that the project fully complies with all relevant regulations and is committed to privacy protection.

Launched in 35 cities across 20 countries, Worldcoin saw the highest number of signups in Hong Kong, although the response post-launch has been relatively lackluster. The project has chosen not to launch in the United States, presumably due to strict biometric data regulations.

Fraser Edwards, CEO at cheqd, emphasized the potential dangers of the approach, warning of unintended consequences and likening it to the scandal involving the sharing of biometric data of Rohingya refugees.

Apart from potential legal challenges in the European Union and countries like India, Worldcoin may face investigations by the UK’s data regulatory body. France’s privacy watchdog has already expressed concern over the data collection methods used.

Worldcoin’s launch illustrates the complex interplay between technological advancements in AI and the pressing need for dynamic regulatory frameworks to ensure privacy and security. The project’s unfolding will likely continue to spark debates and challenge lawmakers to keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

About the author

Sharan Kaur Phillora’s thirst for knowledge has led her to study many different subjects, including NFTs and Blockchain technology – two emerging technologies that will change how we interact with each other in the future. When she isn’t exploring a new idea or concept, she enjoys reading literary masterpieces.

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