Worldcoin scans eyeballs and offers crypto. What to know about the project from OpenAI’s CEO

Aug 10, 2023, 11:08 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Weeks after its international launch, Worldcoin is drawing the attention of privacy regulators around the world, with the Kenya’s government going so far as to shut down the service indefinitely.

The international ID startup, backed by big names in Silicon Valley, is now having to defend itself in investigations over whether the biometric data that the company is collecting is truly secure.

Here’s what to know about Worldcoin and the concerns its raising:


Worldcoin is the creation of Sam Altman, best known as the CEO of OpenAI, the company that has gained widespread recognition with its artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT.

The goal of Worldcoin and the company backing it, Tools for Humanity, is to give people a form of identification that could never be stolen or duplicated. Worldcoin creates a “World ID” by scanning someone’s eyeballs through “orbs” — a device that captures an image of their irises, the colored parts of the eyes.

One possible use for such an ID would be online services, where oftentimes people are having to remember multiple passwords and usernames for various websites they have signed up for.

The security of those sites can be flawed, however, and there have been numerous security breaches where usernames and passwords have been stolen. Instead of using old technology like passwords, a person could just sign up using their World ID.


Worldcoin is first and foremost an identification project but is using cryptocurrency to get people to sign up. The Worldcoin token is trading for roughly $1.90, but its value is largely based on speculation rather than its current usability as a currency.

Worldcoin launched officially in July, and as part of the promotion, early adopters were given an amount of cryptocurrency worth between $50 and $60, depending on the jurisdiction. Most of the countries where Worldcoin launched don’t widely use or accept crypto.

Further, $50 is a lot of money in developing countries where people are being asked to sign up, including Kenya, where the average monthly income is roughly $170.


Thousands of Kenyans lined up in Nairobi last week at a registration center where Worldcoin scanned their irises in exchange for 25 coins worth about $50. The largely youthful crowd included a special line for mothers who waited with children strapped to their backs.

Some of those in line told local media that they had traveled for miles after friends said “free money” was being handed out. They acknowledged not knowing why they needed to scan their irises and where that information would go but just wanted the money.

University graduates were among those who waited for hours, alluding to the high rate of unemployment in Kenya, where many are angry over the rising cost of living.

The Kenyan government has since suspended new sign-ups for Worldcoin as it investigates whether people’s information is being properly protected.

Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said last week that “investigations of the safety and protection of the data being harvested and how the harvesters intend to use the data” had started.


Worldcoin’s orbs collect biometric data by taking photographs of a person’s iris. While Worldcoin argues that the data is used to create a unique, secure form of identification, privacy experts have concerns that the company may use the information in other ways, like personalized marketing.

That has led some countries to investigate Worldcoin’s operations, including France, Germany and now Kenya.

The Bavarian State Office for Data Protection Supervision says it has initiated a comprehensive investigation of Worldcoin and Tools for Humanity over data security practices.

The agency is looking into whether the rights of people who submitted their personal data were observed. They should have been sufficiently informed about how their data would be used and given the ability to object, have their data deleted or to withdraw their permission, said Michael Will, head of the office.

The data also should be protected from unauthorized access — to prevent identity theft, for instance, he said in a statement.

France’s data privacy regulator said the legality of Worldcoin’s data collection and how it stores the information “seems questionable.” It launched an investigation, finding the German privacy watchdog had jursidiction under Europe’s strict data privacy rules.

The U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office says it’s making inquiries about Worldcoin.

Privacy experts are worried that even Worldcoin could eventually be susceptible to criminals infiltrating it, similar to data breaches at other large companies. Privacy experts have said biometric data is already being sold in places like China and that could spread to other countries or jurisdictions.

“When biometric data gets leaked, especially in the poor countries where Worldcoin’s been operating, people’s lives are on the line,” said Pete Howson, a professor of international development at Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

In a blog post post last week, Worldcoin acknowledged the privacy concerns around its new service but said, “Everything is optional, and no personal data is disclosed by default, enabling each holder to decide which (if any) personal data to share with third parties when using World ID.”

Worldcoin has previously said the company uses industry best practices to secure users’ data, pointing to an audit that two security firms did in late July.


Musambi reported from Nairobi, Kenya. AP Business Writer Dave McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed.

United States News

Associated Press

Tornado kills multiple people in Iowa as powerful storms again tear through Midwest

GREENFIELD, Iowa (AP) — Officials said multiple people were killed Tuesday when a tornado ripped through a small town in Iowa, decimating homes and damaging businesses. The town of Greenfield’s hospital was among the buildings damaged — which meant that at least a dozen people hurt had to be taken to hospitals elsewhere, according to […]

39 minutes ago

Former President Donald Trump sits in a courtroom next to his lawyer Todd Blanche before the start ...

Associated Press

Trump hush money trial enters new phase after defense rests without testimony from former president

Donald Trump's hush money trial is now closer to the moment when the jury will begin deciding the former president's fate.

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Rangers recover the body of a Japanese climber who died on North America’s tallest peak

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Rangers have recovered the body of a Japanese man who died after an apparent fall while climbing North America’s tallest peak, authorities said Tuesday. Denali National Park and Preserve identified the climber as T. Hagiwara, from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. He was identified by his first initial in keeping with his family’s […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Detroit could be without Black representation in Congress again with top candidate off the ballot

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Detroit Democrat will not appear on the ballot after building significant support within the party in his attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar in Michigan’s August primary, after election officials determined that he had not submitted enough valid signatures. Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett’s ruling on Tuesday to keep […]

5 hours ago

DeAnn Kilgore grappled with the unexpected letter from her husband's killer, Michael Moore. Despite...

SuElen Rivera

Letters lead to meeting killer, life-changing moment

DeAnn Kilgore grappled with the unexpected letter from her husband's killer, Michael Moore. Despite initial reluctance, she read it, prompting a profound journey of forgiveness and spiritual healing for herself and her family.

5 hours ago

Follow @ktar923...

Sponsored Content by Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

Sponsored Articles


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.



Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.


Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Day & Night is looking for the oldest AC in the Valley

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.

Worldcoin scans eyeballs and offers crypto. What to know about the project from OpenAI’s CEO