Kenya Appears to Have Flip-Flopped on Worldcoin's Data Practices

The country's data watchdog found the project is compliant with its data-protection laws, but has now find different problems with Sam Altman's project.

AccessTimeIconAug 3, 2023 at 3:59 p.m. UTC
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Kenyan authorities appear to have changed their mind about Worldcoin's operations, ahead of the project's suspension in the country.

Wolrdcoin, which was co-founded by Sam Altman, CEO of ChatGPT developer OpenAI, is an identity and cryptocurrency protocol that uses iris scans to verify users. The company has designed its own hardware, known as the Orb, to do so, and claims that the biometric data doesn't leave the device and is erased, unless users consent to Worldcoin holding onto it. After the project's launch in July, Orb-verified users could receive airdrops of the Worldcoin token.

In a TV interview on Wednesday morning, Eliud Owalo, Kenya's minister for the digital economy, said Worldcoin is lawful within the scope of the country's data-collection rules. Owalo also said that the Office of Data Protection Commissioner, or ODPC, was in contact with Worldcoin as far back as April, and had concluded that its activities comply with Kenya's data-protection laws.

"There could be security issues around it [Worldcoin]. There could be regulatory issues around it which we need to improve," but as far as the Data Protection Act of 2019 is concerned, "they were acting within the law," Owalo said.

Around the same time of the TV interview on Wednesday, Kenya's Ministry of the Interior said it suspended the project's operations in the country, citing concerns over financial security and data protection.

Authorities in the U.K., France and Germany are also looking into the project.

In Kenya and later on Wednesday, the ODPC, along with the Communications Authority, issued their own statement, saying that after a preliminary review, they found "a number of legitimate regulatory concerns" around the project. These include a lack of clarity of the security and storage of the sensitive data collected, obtaining consent in exchange for money "which borders on inducement" and the aggregation of massive amounts of citizen data in the hands of private actors.

For its part, the Worldcoin Foundation said that it stopped its operations in Kenya due to "crowd control" issues, despite the government entities' statements. Worldcoin said that during the pause of operations, it would work to make "more robust" crowd control measures and "work with local officials to increase understanding of the privacy measures and commitments Worldcoin implements," according to a statement given to CoinDesk.

“The demand for Worldcoin’s proof-of-personhood verification services in Kenya has been overwhelming, resulting in tens of thousands of individuals waiting in lines over a two-day period to secure a World ID. Out of an abundance of caution and in an effort to mitigate crowd volume, verification services have been temporarily paused," the statement said.

Edited by Mark Nacinovich.


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Eliza Gkritsi

Eliza Gkritsi is a CoinDesk contributor focused on the intersection of crypto and AI.

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