Worldcoin craze in Kenya: Beyond the free money to financial security and data privacy concerns

  • 7 Aug 2023
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Annette Muindi

Worldcoin is an iris biometric cryptocurrency project. Worldcoin was founded with the mission of creating a globally-inclusive identity and financial network, owned by the majority of humanity. Worldcoin consists of a privacy-preserving digital identity network (World ID) built on proof of personhood and, where laws allow, a digital currency (WLD).

Every human, by the mere fact of being human, is entitled to a share of WLD. Worldcoin’s fundamental idea revolves around “Proof of personhood” and refers to establishing that an individual is both human and unique. Once established, this proof grants individuals the power to assert their genuine personhood and distinctiveness from others, all while safeguarding their real-world identity from disclosure. 

How Worldcoin works

Last week, Worldcoin founder Sam Altman launched their iris-scan-for-token orbs globally, after trial runs in Indonesia, Chile, Kenya and 24 other countries. On Wednesday, July 26, two days after the global public launch, Altman tweeted that one person was being “verified” every eight seconds.

After registering and scanning their irises, participants are given 25 Worldcoin tokens. But to convert that token to cash, they have to sell the tokens for USDT (a virtual US dollar) on a crypto exchange that lists Worldcoin’s virtual currency. They can then resell USDT for local currency.

By the end of the first day of launch, each Worldcoin token was worth $2.1 or 299 Kenyan Shillions. Every person who scans their iris on Worldcoin’s shiny orbs gets 25 Worldcoin tokens which are worth an estimated KES 7,700 or roughly $54. Data from Take Profit, a data analytics provider puts the average monthly pay of low-wage earners in Kenya at around KES15,000 monthly before tax.

Alarms raised in Kenya

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) asked Kenyans to be vigilant as they engage with Worldcoin. ODPC issued a statement on Friday advising that Kenyans should do due diligence before disclosing any personal or sensitive data. Additionally, the commission urged Kenyans to thoroughly inquire how their data will be used. The commission further says that it has begun its assessment of the agency to ensure that it is in compliance with the law.

Digital policy analysts have criticized the statement and the agency for not being forceful enough. Before last week’s global launch, Worldcoin had been advertising in several malls in Nairobi throughout much of 2022 where it enlisted the help of young unemployed Kenyans and students to recruit participants for its beta launch. A source close to Kenya’s crypto industry says the firm may have obtained licences from the data protection agency before the launch.

Despite the statement from the data protection office, Kenyans continue to throng Worldcoin orb locations in the hopes of free cash. Altman who also leads Open AI, the artificial intelligence company that launched in December 2022 says Worldcoin is necessary to distinguish between humans and artificial intelligence, distribute universal basic income and as KYC to access formal financial services. Neither he nor Worldcoin has explained what it plans to do after collecting iris scans. But the project has come under criticism and is being investigated in several countries, including the United Kingdom and France.

Concerns about Worldcoin

The global networking and financial network that Worldcoin promises has made it a strong consideration for adoption as an alternative currency by individuals and countries. The fact remains that Worldcoin will offer many benefits, but there are things we must consider before adopting it.

Many crypto enthusiasts have raised concerns about the privacy implications of using iris scans for identification. As the project intends to scan the irises of billions of people, it could potentially have massive power in the AI-driven future. One concern is that iris scans could be used to track people’s movements or to identify them without their consent. Another concern is that the data collected by Worldcoin could be hacked or sold to third parties on the dark web.

Loss of money through fraud and cybercriminal activities is almost always a constant concerning digital currency. This concern persists because there are almost no established regulatory bodies to monitor people’s financial transactions with digital currencies. Hence, users are not protected from fraud and cyber-attacks.

The Worldcoin eye scan identifies the uniqueness of humans by scanning their iris to obtain basic personal data about them. Hence, when you sign up for the project and use the Worldcoin iris scan, you will submit your basic details as proof of your humanness.  Submitting your data could lead to a loss of data privacy as the team could sell them to a third party. Therefore, you could lose your data to an unknown third party by signing up for the project and getting scanned via the Worldcoin iris scan.

The adoption of a digital currency like Worldcoin by a country will entail its inclusion in the country’s monetary policies. Most times, the high volatile exchange rate between traditional currencies and digital currencies could lead to a high level of economic instability.

Like every other digital currency, cybersecurity threats are a major risk of Worldcoin. Any security breach could result in a heavy loss of funds for the government. It could even crash the economy of the country.

Worldcoin promises a global financial network for all. However, with the potential risks of world governments and individuals signing up for the project, adopting it as an alternative currency should come with much caution. The Worldcoin eye scan exposes everyone, including the government, to the above-mentioned threats. Hence, adopting or signing up for Worldcoin should be carefully considered to mitigate these risks for individuals and countries.