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Worldcoin Ordered to Stop Iris-Scanning Operations in Hong Kong

Worldcoin Ordered to Stop Iris-Scanning Operations in Hong Kong

Worldcoin, the eyeball-scanning digital identity startup co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, has been ordered to cease its operations in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) said in a Wednesday (May 22) press release that it has directed the organization to stop scanning and collecting iris and face images of members of the public.

The PCPD found that the Worldcoin project violated Hong Kong’s Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO), according to the release.

Reached by PYMNTS, Worldcoin Foundation provided an emailed statement saying that it is “disappointed” by the PCPD’s views.

“Worldcoin operates lawfully and is designed to be fully compliant with all laws and regulations governing data collection and use, including the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance of Hong Kong, among many other similar statutes across other markets,” the statement said.

“In an effort to prepare humanity for the age of AI, the Foundation continues to raise the privacy bar through data minimization, user control over data and advanced technology such as personal custody, iris code deletion, and secure multi-party computation,” it added. “Unfortunately, the authorities in Hong Kong overlooked these aspects in their evaluation of the humanness verification process.”

During the PCDP’s investigation, it determined that during Worldcoin’s operation in Hong Kong, more than 8,000 individuals had their faces and irises scanned for verification, the release said. These people were told that they would then be able to receive free Worldcoin tokens, a cryptocurrency, at regular intervals.

In its press release, the PCPD invited members of the public to inform the office if they see Worldcoin operating its iris scanning devices anywhere in Hong Kong.

When announcing in 2021 that it raised $25 million in funding from investors, Worldcoin said it aimed to spread the reach of cryptocurrency and financial services as a whole by having users get their irises scanned. The image would be encrypted and turned into a code, and then users would be given a free share of the Worldcoin cryptocurrency.

Worldcoin CEO and Co-founder Alex Blania said at the time that crypto is “a very powerful thing.”

It will widen the boundaries of the economy in general and give many people access,” Blania said. “We designed the whole system to be fundamentally privacy-preserving. The iris code itself is the only thing leaving the orb. There’s no big database of biometric data.

In July, Worldcoin launched its technology and its cryptocurrency in 35 cities across 20 countries. It did not launch them in the United States because of concerns about speculation and fraud.

A month later, Kenya became the world’s first nation to suspend Worldcoin’s operations, saying it was concerned about the organization’s collection of iris data.

A spokesperson for Worldcoin told PYMNTS at the time: “During the pause, the team will develop an onboarding program that encompasses more robust crowd control measures and work with local officials to increase understanding of the privacy measures and commitments Worldcoin implements, not only in Kenya but everywhere.”

The organization has also been ordered to stop its operations in Spain and Portugal.