An iris scan for $54: Inside the Worldcoin controversy in Kenya

An iris scan for $54: Inside the Worldcoin controversy in Kenya

News of a new cryptocurrency launch does not spark the kind of interest it used to at the height of the cryptocurrency boom in 2021. Following such high profile failures, like last year's FTX collapse, only the die-hard adherents seemed to know what new innovation was happening in that corner of global finance.

Worldcoin, a new cryptocurrency, gained global attention for its promise of free money and its use of biometric iris scanning for user registration. The cryptocurrency's goal was to create a digital, global currency by providing equal amounts to people who had their irises scanned. However, the launch faced challenges, with complaints from operators and registered users, as well as concerns about data privacy and the collection of large amounts of biometric data.

Despite regulatory scrutiny, over two million people signed up for Worldcoin in 34 countries, with Kenya being a significant market. Kenyans were attracted to the promise of free money amid rising living costs in the country. However, the Kenyan Ministry of Interior suspended Worldcoin due to data privacy and security concerns. The suspension will remain until investigations determine the authenticity, legality, and safety of Worldcoin's activities and data usage.

Worldcoin claims it will anonymize and delete users' biometric data once their systems are optimized, but it has not committed to a timeline for doing so. The Kenyan Data Protection Act forbids the transfer of biometric data outside the country, raising concerns about the purpose of data collection and potential data transfer to the company's headquarters in Berlin, Germany. Kenyan authorities will investigate these issues in the coming days.

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