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

Aug 10, 2023, 11:08 PM

Carlos Jose, 21, has his eyes scanned by an orb, at a Worldcoin registration point in Barcelona, Sp...

Carlos Jose, 21, has his eyes scanned by an orb, at a Worldcoin registration point in Barcelona, Spain, on Friday, Aug. 4, 2023. Weeks after its international launch, Worldcoin is drawing the attention of privacy regulators around the world. The international ID startup is now having to defend itself in investigations over whether the biometric data that the company is collecting is truly secure. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

(AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

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.

National News

Water spills over the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which runs along the Washington and Ore...

Associated Press

Biden deal with tribes promises $200M for Columbia River salmon reintroduction

The Biden administration has pledged over $200 million toward reintroducing salmon in the Upper Columbia River Basin in an agreement with tribes that includes a stay on litigation for 20 years.

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Surgeons perform second pig heart transplant, trying to save a dying man

WASHINGTON (AP) — Surgeons have transplanted a pig’s heart into a dying man in a bid to prolong his life – only the second patient to ever undergo such an experimental feat. Two days later, the man was cracking jokes and able to sit in a chair, Maryland doctors said Friday. The 58-year-old Navy veteran […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

GOP candidate challenging election loss in race to lead Texas’ most populous county drops lawsuit

HOUSTON (AP) — The highest profile Republican candidate who had sued seeking to overturn election results in the nation’s third-most populous county, a Democratic stronghold in deeply red Texas, has dropped her lawsuit. Alexandra del Moral Mealer was one of 21 GOP candidates who had filed lawsuits challenging their losses in November’s election in Harris […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Convicted sex offender back in custody after walking away from a St. Louis hospital

SHREWSBURY, Mo. (AP) — A man convicted of child sex crimes is back in custody after walking away from a St. Louis hospital, authorities said. Tommy Wayne Boyd, 45, was transported Wednesday from the Potosi Correctional Facility to Mercy Hospital South for medical treatment. Surveillance video later showed him walking away from the hospital, St. […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Lawmakers author proposal to try to cut food waste in half by 2030

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A bipartisan coalition of U.S. lawmakers has introduced a proposal designed to cut food waste in half by 2030. The lawmakers submitted their legislation on Thursday and said it would improve collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and regional waste prevention and food recovery organizations. The lawmakers said the proposal […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Chicago man gets life in prison for role in 2016 home invasion that killed 5 people

CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago man convicted of fatally shooting five people during a 2016 home invasion has been sentenced to life in prison. A Cook County judge on Thursday sentenced Lionel Parks, 35, who was convicted in July in the December 2016 killings at a drug dealer’s home on the city’s South Side, the […]

4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

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