Worldcoin is founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman. The project is unique in that it requires potential users to register their irises to create a unique digital identity which can then be linked to digital currencies managed through Worldcoin's smartphone app, the World App.
The launch of this project has led to people in major cities all over the world – including the Kenyan capital of Nairobi – lining up to get their irises scanned by shiny, spherical eyeball scanning devices known as the Orb. (Related: New crypto linked to digital ID forces all users to scan their EYEBALLS using iris-scanning technology.)
Kenya was one of the first countries where Worldcoin launched its sign-ups, quickly becoming one of the biggest markets for the new cryptocurrency project. But the Kenyan government then immediately decided to suspend it.
The Kenyan Ministry of the Interior issued a decree suspending Worldcoin enrollment activities in the country, citing concerns with the "authenticity and legality" of its activities in the areas of security, financial services and data protection.
"Relevant security, financial services and data protection agencies have commenced inquiries and investigations to establish the authenticity and legality of the aforesaid activities," noted Minister of the Interior Kithure Kindiki in a statement.
A previous review of Worldcoin's operations by the Communications Authority of Kenya and the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has already raised concerns, including the potential for Worldcoin to obtain consumer consent in return for a monetary award – an act that borders on inducement.
As part of its promotional activities, Kenyans who voluntarily got their irises scanned to sign up for Worldcoin were offered 25 Worldcoins in exchange – amounting to around 7,100 Kenyan shillings (nearly $50). Reports from the launch of Worldcoin in Kenya noted that relatively few people were familiar with the project or its goals and were instead only looking to sign up to receive the $50 reward.
The suspension covers both Worldcoin and "any other entity that may be similarly engaging the people of Kenya" and will remain in place until the government can determine "the absence of any risks to the general public whatsoever."
Nearly three million people in at least 35 cities around the world have already signed up for Worldcoin as of press time, including more than 350,000 Kenyans.
Alex Blania, CEO of Tools for Humanity, Worldcoin's parent company, said in a statement that the company has complied with Kenyan authorities and has paused World ID verifications as it continues "to work with local regulators to address their questions." Blania added that the World ID "is built for privacy" and that the company will continue its global rollout.
"Worldcoin remains committed to providing an inclusive, privacy-preserving, decentralized on-ramp to the global digital economy and looks forward to resuming its services in Kenya while working closely with local regulators and other stakeholders," the company said in a statement.
Kenya is not the only country concerned with the potential risks associated with Worldcoin. Financial and digital regulators in countries like France, Germany and the United Kingdom are also evaluating Worldcoin and whether it may violate local and supranational privacy protections.
"Let us support the stoppage of Kenyans being used as guinea pigs and their data being harvested," said Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for the Foreign and Diaspora Affairs Ministry Alfred Mutua. "You have to ask yourself why your eyes are being scanned and information gathered. What does it mean and what will it mean to you and your offspring?"
Learn more about threats to privacy around the world like the Worldcoin project at PrivacyWatch.news.
Watch this short clip of people voluntarily lining up to have their eyeballs scanned by the Worldcoin orb.