Crypto analysts have warned of a “high potential for disaster” with Worldcoin, a new cryptocurrency that promises people from around the world free money in exchange for a scan of their irises.
Fronted by Silicon Valley technology millionaire Sam Altman, Worldcoin aims to have captured the biometric data of some one billion people by 2023. It has so far scanned the eyeballs of 100,000 people from several countries.
But many experts in bitcoin and crypto are not impressed. They speak about the risk of fraud and a lack of “real safeguards” on the collected data. In addition, analysts pointed to the threat posed by Worldcoin on individual privacy and the concept of decentralization as an affront to the founding principles of bitcoin.
“It is concerning when private entities start offering monetary incentives to collect personal data without any safeguards and or enforceable restrictions on what they can do with the data,” software developer Brandon Church told BeInCrypto in an interview.
Citing past failures by big tech to secure personal information, Church expressed concern with private firms collecting biometric data in a crypto industry that in large part continues to operate outside of regulatory oversight.
“No one gathers data just to keep it hidden, and private entities have proven time and again that they play fast and loose with user data. Data itself has become a product that can be sold. Providing unique data sets makes for a very lucrative venture,” he charged.
Worldcoin denies storing personal data
Worldcoin has since raised $25 million in funding from notable investors like Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of Linkedin, crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, Andreessen Horowitz, and Coinbase Ventures.
According to its website, the company calls itself a “new, collectively owned global currency that will be distributed fairly to as many people as possible.” Worldcoin has built a device called Orb, which is used to scan people’s irises and capture unique biometric identifiers.
The identifiers are then “converted into a short numeric code, making it possible to check whether the person has signed up already.” In a way, this should prevent the possibility of “double-dipping” for those individuals who have been paid already. The Orb device has so far been deployed to 12 countries.
Sam Altman, the founder of Worldcoin, denies that the firm stores people’s data. “I think Worldcoin is more privacy-preserving than centralized services we use today,” he tweeted in response to Edward Snowden’s criticism on Oct 23. “All Worldcoin, or anyone, could ever tell is if someone has already signed up for the service.”
Church theorizes that Worldcoin will be unable — either willingly or otherwise — to keep the biometric data in a database. He sees history repeating itself. “In the global data collection rush, it was emails and phone numbers first, then came personal messages, pictures, and video,”
Church narrated, adding:
The next obvious progression is biometric data; from upclose facial scans, retinal scans, fingerprints and very soon DNA samples. The goal is to have unique sets of data, draw relations, correlate with other databases and have a complete profile on a person.
Crypto analyst Jason Choi warned that for the Worldcoin project “not [to be] a dystopian disaster, development needs to happen under extreme public scrutiny. If it aspires to be a global currency for all people, it needs to be held to a much higher standard than your typical shitcoin fork.”
In the cryptocurrency sector, decentralization is a key tenet. It removes the need for a central authority to determine what is and is not valid data and removes a single point of failure, whether it be technical, moral, or political. Worldcoin, however, is asking to be a central authority in charge of users’ biometric data, so privacy and decentralization become useless.