DISRUPTION OR DYSTOPIA?

Worldcoin’s Controversial Eye-Scanning Crypto Project Invades Kenya

By  |  April 12, 2023

After initial test runs that drew mixed reactions in select college campuses in Kenya over a year ago, Worldcoin—the controversial project that seeks to scan the eyeballs of all people worldwide using a metallic orb in a bid to power identity verification and financial services on a global scale—has resurfaced with outreach posts in a number of malls in the country’s capital.

Worldcoin stands have been spotted in at least two malls in Nairobi - Two Rivers Mall and The Nextgen Mall - as confirmed by locals, as well as reporting by the local media, one of which says Worldcoin outreach groups—comprising individuals in Worldcoin garb wielding the scanning equipment and soliciting users—are in as many as 16 locations across the capital.

Worldcoin’s interest in Kenya may not be unconnected to the country’s profile as a regional financial and tech hub, home to ubiquitous mobile money infrastructure as established with M-Pesa, as well as a tech-savvy population with an appetite for cryptocurrency illustrated by a recent UNCTAD report that counts over 4 million active crypto users in the country. However, the prevailing sentiment around the Worldcoin operation has been one of caution.

In 2021, Worldcoin representatives hired country-level orb operators and sub-operators who—incentivised by earn-as-you-scan contracts that ultimately paid out a pittance—took to campuses to collect scans. And there was egregious manipulation and exploitation in the process, according to an in-depth report by MIT Technology Review, which also found that the orbs—each of which costs around USD 5 K—often malfunctioned, as did the app.

One orb operator Bryan Mtembe who spoke to MIT Technology Review said he was fed little information about Worldcoin by the reps but was encouraged to “bring more people in to get yourself more money” —  He would eventually sign up between 150-200 people (mostly students), earning a paltry KES 50.00 (~44 cents) per sign-up.

“You don't have any [money] and someone is offering you some,” explained another Kenyan operator Willis Okach, adding that he thinks Worldcoin “feels that students don’t have a lot of money so they will sign up.”

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