Thursday, July 11, 2024

Worldcoin’s Eye-Scanning Orbs Set to Return in Kenya After Controversial Suspension Lifted

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Kenya has closed its investigation into Worldcoin, a cryptocurrency project founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, paving the way for the company to potentially relaunch its “orb” iris-scanning devices in the country after a year-long suspension.

The announcement came from Kenya’s Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC), which had been probing Worldcoin’s data collection practices since last July. The ODPC said it found no evidence that Worldcoin violated Kenya’s data protection laws, but ordered the company to register as a data controller, obtain explicit consent from users, and publish a privacy policy before resuming operations.

Worldcoin launched in 2021 with the ambitious goal of creating a new global digital currency that would be distributed to every person on Earth for free. To verify unique human identities and prevent fraud, the company developed custom iris-scanning devices called “orbs” that map people’s eyes.

The orbs were initially deployed in several countries, but concerns quickly arose about the security and privacy implications of collecting biometric data from potentially billions of people. The project faced particular scrutiny in Kenya, where nearly 350,000 people had their eyes scanned before the ODPC ordered Worldcoin to halt registrations last summer.

In a statement, Worldcoin welcomed the conclusion of the ODPC investigation and said it would work to meet the conditions for relaunching in Kenya. The company emphasized that the orbs convert iris scans into irreversible code strings and do not store the images, and that users can opt out of the system at any time.

If Worldcoin does return to Kenya, it could provide a major boost for the fledgling project. The country has been a hotbed of cryptocurrency adoption, with the Central Bank of Kenya estimating that over 4.5 million Kenyans own digital currencies. Distributing free Worldcoin to even a fraction of the population could dramatically expand the token’s user base.

However, Worldcoin still faces an uphill battle to achieve global scale and acceptance. Critics have derided the project as a privacy nightmare and questioned the need for yet another cryptocurrency. Worldcoin will also have to navigate a complex web of regulatory and logistical challenges as it seeks to expand to new markets.

For now, though, the Kenyan approval represents a significant step forward for the ambitious project. With its legal troubles in the country apparently resolved, Worldcoin can refocus on its mission to put cryptocurrency in the hands and eyes of the world.

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