Blania describes a future world filled with spheres of all shapes and sizes, where everyone will be assigned a unique anonymous code associated with their iris, which they can use to log into a multitude of web and blockchain-based applications.
Blania did not rule out the possibility that Worldcoin would charge a fee for providing the service, but the startup mainly plans to make money through the appreciation of its currency. “You distribute the tokens to as many people as possible,” Blania said. Because of this, “the utility of the token has increased dramatically” and “the price of the token has risen.”
The key to all these technologies is the Orb itself, and the contracts signed by the Orb operators underscore the company’s focus on stress testing. “Your role is to help us evaluate Orbs and how people interact with them,” the contract said. “You should think of yourself as a product tester.”
Blania told BuzzFeed News that the company primarily uses its field tests to see how Orb performs in different environments — from the heat of Kenya to the cold of Norway. “In Kenya, where it’s 40 degrees, the reflection on the Orb alone is something we’ve never seen in our German office,” Blania said.
Adam Schwartz, a senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said ambiguity about Worldcoin’s goals is troublesome. “The question is, is this a digital currency company, or is it a data broker?” he said. “Either way, the practice at hand, which is paying for people’s biometrics, is very questionable for privacy and fairness.”
“Worldcoin is not a data company and our business model does not involve exploiting or selling personal user data. Worldcoin is only interested in the uniqueness of users — Namely, they have not previously registered with Worldcoin — not their identities,” Worldcoin’s Golovina said in a statement.
The company’s efforts to build its database could also violate data privacy and processing laws that underpin the company’s extensive operations in Kenya. Kenya recently passed a data protection law that prohibits companies from transferring biometric data abroad without approval from the newly created Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. Worldcoin currently processes user data in the US, UK, Germany, Japan and India based on its data consent form.
Kenyan data commissioner Immaculate Kassait told BuzzFeed News her office was “not aware” that Worldcoin was collecting Kenyans’ biometric data and transferring it abroad.
The company has until July 14 to register with the commission and submit a detailed data protection impact assessment under Kenya’s new data privacy law, Kassait said in an email. Worldcoin’s Golovina told BuzzFeed News that the company will soon be working with Kenya’s Data Council and has already conducted a “rigorous” privacy impact assessment.
Bryan Ford, head of the Decentralized/Distributed Systems (DEDIS) Lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who wrote a seminal paper on proof of personality in 2008, says authentication is tackled in a way that preserves user privacy The problem will be significant progress. However, Ford is not convinced of Worldcoin’s solution. He said the company’s decision to build and store a huge, centralized database of irises and iris hashes was a massive invasion of user privacy.
“We dispute the description that collecting images of Worldcoin users is an invasion of privacy: if collecting images of people with their consent is an invasion of privacy, then CLEAR” – Biometrics Company – “United Nations and Aadhaar would be an example of an invasion of privacy as well,” Golovina said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
“Informed consent means you have full knowledge of what’s going on,” said Elias Okwara, Africa policy manager at advocacy group Access Now, noting that most of Kenya’s population speaks Swahili. “So in the beginning, it’s very difficult to explain to individuals what data processing means.”
Spokesman Golovina said Worldcoin will soon roll out privacy forms in six languages, and suggested that Orb operators are on-site translating and explaining the company’s extensive policies to non-English speakers. “In all these local countries, we have Orb operators, and their whole purpose and role is to explain to people in the local language what they agree to,” Golovina said.
Any large biometric database is also vulnerable to hacking, Ford said, explaining that the database could be compromised if someone hacked into the thousands of Orbs the company plans to distribute. “Basically no hardware is reliable and unbreakable,” Ford said.
Blania admitted that “there has never been an uncracked hardware device,” but said Worldcoin is building a fraud detection mechanism to identify compromised Orbs.