Worldcoin in talks with gov’t to resume Kenya operations

Worldcoin in talks with gov’t to resume Kenya operations

Kaleem, 22, an engineer in Bengaluru, signs up for WorldCoin by having his eyes scanned by the spherical device in Mantri Square Mall in Bengaluru, India July 25, 2023. REUTERS/Medha Singh

Worldcoin, the cryptocurrency project is set to resume operations in Kenya after talks with the government following its suspension in August.

The crypto project co-founded by Sam Altman, CEO of the American Artificial Intelligence company OpenAI was suspended in Kenya on August 2 over data security concerns amid a hysterical uptake in the capital Nairobi.

Highly placed sources within government circles told Citizen Digital on Thursday that an agreement has been reached to allow the US-based firm to resume operations under new guidelines.

"Operations are set to resume in early 2024," said the source who cannot be named.

"Worldcoin is working directly with regulators to meet Kenya's requirements, particularly as the Assembly considers new regulations. Stipends will remain and will expand to locations across the country."

The Worldcoin project rolled out globally on June 24. But despite its ambitions of a decentralised global currency, the project was met with privacy concerns and questions about the security of the biodata the company was collecting from Kenyans.

The verification process involved scanning one's eyeballs through an Orb in exchange for a digital identity called World ID.

The concerns were heightened by the fact that new members were getting 25 free cryptocurrency tokens known as WLD after the verification, valued at Ksh.8,256 at the time.

The government stopped all activities associated with the crypto project until relevant agencies certify the absence of any security risks.

Following the Worldcoin's suspension, Alex Blania, the project’s CEO who co-founded it with OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, said they and Tools For Humanity (TFH) were pausing World ID verifications in Kenya to address the government’s concerns while optimistic of resuming operations in the country.

TFH is the Germany-based global hardware and software company which led the initial development of the Worldcoin protocol.

“TFH has paused World ID verifications in Kenya as we continue to work with local regulators to address their questions. We apologize to everyone in Kenya for the delay,” Blania said in an August 3 post on X.

“World ID is built for privacy. We look forward to resuming operations while continuing global rollout.”

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki told the Senate on September 14 that the government was conducting a forensic analysis of the hardware components used to collect data from Kenyans for the project.

The security minister said he had yet to be convinced that Worldcoin activities were safe because the company was operating without clearance from the government.

“Citizen data is a sovereignty issue. They harvested data here operating outside the law. I know I run the risk of being told I’m standing in the way of commerce but as a security manager, I need to know who is behind any crypto the source of their investment and who is doing what because if we allow anything that will harm the people of Kenya I will be asked,” he said.

Tools For Humanity had just two weeks prior revealed they had been scanning people’s irises in Nairobi and other Kenyan urban centres since 2021 when they were piloting the project.

At the start of September, Worldcoin said over 635,000 Kenyans had downloaded the crypto app, although 345,000 had not yet verified their identities by scanning their irises.

Close to 5 million people globally have a World ID, the company says on its website, 2.6 million of which were verified.

The project has since updated to World ID 2.0, which, the company says, makes it easier to distinguish between bots and “verified humans” online.

The new version announced on Wednesday supports integrations for its World ID with Minecraft, Reddit, Telegram, Shopify and Mercado Libre.


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