Controversial Worldcoin Eyes More Kenyan Eyeballs After Probe Withdrawal

By  |  June 28, 2024

Worldcoin, the controversial cryptocurrency and digital identity project that was halted in Kenya shortly after launch last year, appears poised for a comeback in the country, in a move that could reignite privacy debates. Kenyan authorities dropped an investigation into the project’s data collection practices, paving the way for user registration to resume.

This follows a tumultuous period for Worldcoin in Kenya. Launched in August 2023, the project promised a universal digital identity and financial network in exchange for iris scans. Founded by US tech entrepreneur Sam Altman, notable for leading OpenAI which owns the prominent ChatGPT generative AI model, Worldcoin offers free crypto tokens to people who agree to have their eyeballs scanned.

Thousands of Kenyans queued up at registration centres this week to get the currency worth about USD 49. However, Kenyan authorities suspended operations last August due to concerns about data privacy and security.

The recent development hinges on a June 14th letter from Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) obtained by Reuters. The letter states the investigation was closed “with no further police action.”

“We are grateful for the DCI’s fair investigation and for the Director of Public Prosecutions’ determination to close the matter,” said Thomas Scott, Worldcoin’s chief legal officer, in a statement. Worldcoin will resume registration of users across Kenya soon, he added.

However, there are curious stares as the dropping of the probe comes barely three months after Interior Cabinet Secretary Kinthure Kindiki revealed to the National Assembly’s Committee on Public Petitions that Kenya was under pressure from the US government to lift the suspension of Worldcoin’s activities, vowing at the time that he would not budge, reports Business Daily.

“The United States has been pushing the government on the issues of Worldcoin, but we have remained adamant and firm,” he told the Committee in March.

“They (the US) think that they (Worldcoin) still have a case to set up their activities here. We have remained adamant that the decision we took will remain. We are not going to review the suspension.” Kenyan President William Ruto visited Washington in May as part of a three-day state visit that included bilateral talks with President Joe Biden and the agreement of multiple deals.

Kenya’s reversal of stance on Worldcoin comes despite lingering concerns from privacy advocates. Critics argue iris scans are a form of biometric data that, if compromised, could have serious consequences. Worldcoin, however, maintains it does not store user data. While user enrollment is set to restart in Kenya, the project’s long-term success hinges on public trust.

“The outcome of the investigation doesn’t erase the initial privacy concerns,” said a Nairobi-based tech analyst who wished to remain anonymous. “Worldcoin will need to be transparent about data security measures to gain user confidence.”

With over 5.7 million users globally, Worldcoin remains a significant player. Whether it can navigate the privacy tightrope in Kenya and elsewhere will be a story to watch.

Featured Image Credits: Capital News

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