Sam Altman’s Crypto Project, Worldcoin, Collects Personal Data With an Eye-Scanning Orb — And Now It’s Banned in Spain

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Worldcoin, a Sam Altman-led iris scanning and cryptocurrency network, was banned in Spain this week by data protection regulator AEPD for up to three months. The cryptocurrency token is not available in the U.S. because of regulatory concerns.

Worldcoin launched in 2023 and operates differently from other cryptocurrencies by not requiring an upfront investment. Instead, Worldcoin offers crypto tokens in exchange for eye scans through a custom scanner called the Orb. The scans, in turn, establish humanness or uniqueness and create a digital passport that the company calls a World ID.

“Worldcoin, through World ID, can play an important role in demonstrating humanness in an online world populated with increasingly advanced artificial intelligence,” the company wrote in a blog post.

According to another Worldcoin blog post, “proof of personhood” with eye scans is a way of differentiating humans from AI and bots.

Over 4 million users have already signed up for Worldcoin, with some initial signups occurring in developing countries where participants were incentivized to give their biometric data in exchange for cash or prizes, according to a 2022 MIT Technology Review investigation.

As per a TIME report, Worldcoin continued to incentivize signups last year by offering 25 units of its WLD cryptocurrency (worth about $179 today) to anyone who consented to have their irises scanned by the Orb.

Related: An OpenAI Rival Developed a Model That Appears to Have ‘Metacognition,’ Something Never Seen Before Publicly

The Orb. Credit: Worldcoin

On Wednesday, AEPD director Mar España Martí announced that Spain made the “precautionary” move to temporarily block Worldcoin after being concerned about the company collecting biometric data.

“What we have done is raise the alarm in Europe,” she said, “but this is an issue that affects… citizens in all the countries of the European Union.”

A representative from Worldcoin told Entrepreneur that “Worldcoin is fully compliant with all laws and regulations governing biometric data collection and data transfer, including Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”),” continuing:

“As such, we have been in consistent and ongoing dialog with our lead Data Privacy Authority in the EU, BayLDA, for months. We were disappointed that the Spanish regulator circumvented the accepted EU process and rules, which leaves us little recourse but to file suit.”

On Friday, the company took legal action against the order and temporarily paused its services in Spain.

Countries around the world have scrutinized Worldcoin over privacy concerns, with Kenya being the first to suspend Worldcoin in August. U.S. users can create a World ID, but cannot access the Worldcoin crypto token, according to a Worldcoin representative. World ID locations in the U.S., where users can find an Orb and have their eyes scanned, include sites in New York and Los Angeles.

The Orb eye scanner took Worldcoin three years of research and development to create and will undergo a revamp this year to look “much more friendly,” Worldcoin CEO Alex Blania told TechCrunch.

Worldcoin tells users on its website that it does not share or sell personal data, and that their biometric information is secure. Okta became the first major company to incorporate Worldcoin into its services, allowing users to sign in with Worldcoin via phone or through the Orb.

Related: Five Events That Shaped the Crypto Industry in 2023

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