Citing privacy and security concerns, the Kenyan government on Wednesday ordered Worldcoin to suspend operations in the country.
Worldcoin, a project founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, gives free cryptocurrency to people in exchange for their biometric data.
The project says on its website that it is “designed to become the world's largest human identity and financial network.” Its WorldID offering is supposed to serve as a “digital passport” that “lets you prove you are a unique and real person while remaining anonymous.”
When Worldcoin launched last week, it attempted to encourage enrollments by offering a crypto token, reportedly worth $49, to Kenya residents who submitted to iris scans.
On Tuesday, privacy regulators in the country stated that they were concerned about several aspects of the initiative, including the “lack of clarity on the security and storage of the collected sensitive data,” uncertainty regarding cryptocurrency, and “massive citizen data in the hands of private actors without an appropriate framework.”
The Republic of Kenya Ministry of Interior and National Administration on Wednesday announced that it was suspending Worldcoin until “relevant public agencies certify the absence of any risk to the general public.”
The project has drawn criticism by privacy advocates. The Electronic Privacy Information Center called Worldcoin “a potential privacy nightmare that offers a biometrics-dependent vision of digital identity and cryptocurrency.”
That group added: “Worldcoin’s approach creates serious privacy risks by bribing the poorest and most vulnerable people to turn over unchangeable biometrics like iris scans and facial recognition images in exchange for a small payout.”
Privacy officials in other countries, including France and Germany, are also investigating the initiative.