Revealed: Worldcoin Started Scanning Kenyans’ Eyeballs In 2021

    Worldcoin, the cryptocurrency initiative backed by US-based artificial intelligence company OpenAI, has come under scrutiny for its pre-rollout activities involving iris scans in Kenya.

    The project, which aims to create a decentralized global currency, revealed that it had been conducting iris scans in Kenya as early as 2021, well before its global rollout in June.

    However, the crypto project faced suspension in Kenya on August 2 due to growing concerns over data security. Kenyan citizens were scanning their irises using the Worldcoin Orb as a means of verifying their humanity in the online realm, which led to a surge in participation.

    In response to these concerns, officials from the project’s partner, Tools For Humanity (TFH), a Germany-based global hardware and software company that played a significant role in developing the Worldcoin protocol, appeared before a Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee for questioning regarding the project’s operations.

    Sam Sadle, Head of Government Relations and Public Policy at TFH, disclosed that the iris scans had been conducted in Nairobi and other Kenyan urban centers as part of a pilot project.

    He stated, “Prior to July 24th, we have been providing proof of humanness verification since 2021. We were located in more than 20 locations in the city, including malls; The Hub, Sarit Centre, Imaara Mall, and elsewhere. We believe we reached a broad stratum of people across the country.”

    Despite its global rollout in June, the Worldcoin project faced privacy concerns and questions about the security of the biodata collected from Kenyan participants. Adding to the controversy, new members were offered 25 free cryptocurrency tokens valued at Sh8,256 at the time after completing the verification process.

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    The Kenyan government halted all activities associated with the crypto project pending certification by relevant agencies to ensure there were no security risks involved.

    Worldcoin’s CEO, Alex Blania, defended the free grants, likening them to PayPal’s initial strategy of providing $20 to users to encourage adoption, emphasizing the need for users to have funds for transactions.

    Tools For Humanity’s Chief Legal Officer, Thomas Scott, revealed that they had also piloted the project in Chile and Portugal for three years before the global launch in June.

    When asked about the choice of Kenya for the pilot, Scott cited the country’s high level of tech adoption, talent, political stability, and integrity.

    Central Bank of Kenya Governor Kamau Thugge, who appeared before the committee, clarified that the CBK was not involved in licensing or clearing the proprietors of Worldcoin and had no knowledge of the project’s activities in the country.

    Worldcoin maintained that they had been in contact with the Office of the Data Commissioner since April 19, 2022, where they were registered as a data controller rather than a limited company.

    Despite the suspension in Kenya, Worldcoin continued to roll out in other countries, including Germany and France. According to the company’s website, it had recorded 2,279,884 sign-ups and verifications across 34 countries.

    However, the project also faced scrutiny in Europe for potentially violating strict General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in EU member states.

    The United Kingdom’s Information Commission Office announced it would be making inquiries, and France’s privacy watchdog CNIL questioned the legality of the project’s biometric data collection.