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  • J Huang and S Pettigrove

"Eye-catching" WorldCoin scrutinized

Updated: Mar 13


Worldcoin, a foundation backed by Sam Altman, CEO and co-founder of OpenAI (the developer of ChatGPT), rolled out its ground-breaking and controversial Worldcoin crypto token internationally on Monday.


The Worldcoin (WLD) token is part of an identity verification project which the Worldcoin Foundation says is necessary for the future to distinguish humans from robots online, thanks to the increasing challenges brought by artificial intelligence (AI) technologies including ChatGPT.


Like other crypto tokens, the Worldcoin token is a cryptocurrency that is transferred using blockchain technology. What is unique about Worldcoin is that it requires users to first prove their identity (and that they are real humans) using an eye-scanning device called the "Orb". The Foundation believes that being able to verify a person in that way will be key to a new digital economy in an era when AI is integrated into society.


According to the Foundation's website:

  • A user must download the World App, the first protocol-compatible wallet, to reserve Worldcoin tokens.

  • After visiting an Orb, a biometric verification device, users receive a World ID.

  • This lets users prove they are a real and unique person online while remaining completely private according to the Foundation.

Eager users can find the closest Orb and book a time to be verified with World App and at worldcoin.org. There are Orbs in 18 countries and regions across the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, and the foundation says it is ramping up global distribution of Orbs. It is reported that people in Tokyo are queuing up to get their eye-balls scanned, before they receive 25 Worldcoin tokens as rewards.


The Worldcoin token climbed as high as US$3.58 on crypto exchanges yesterday before slumping to US$1.92 overnight before rebounding, CoinMarketCap data shows. It is trading at US$2.1 at the time of writing this article.


The Worldcoin project has been widely criticized. Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin expressed his concerns about possible abuses of the system in a blog post, including issues around privacy, centralization and security. Worldcoin has also come under fire for heavily promoting itself in the developing world: about 30% of its Orb-verified users are in each of Asia and Africa, raising concerns about data exploitation. A story published in April 2022 by the MIT Technology Review alleged that the foundation deployed:

deceptive marketing practices, collected more personal data than it acknowledged, and failed to obtain meaningful informed consent.

It also claimed that Worldcoin may violate privacy laws such as Europe's stringent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).


Regulators are similarly queueing up to scrutinize Worldcoin. The UK's data watchdog, the Information Commission Office, has launched an inquiry into the project, hinting that the Foundation's personal data collection process, which heavily relies on users' consent, may be questionable.


The Foundation responded by saying that they adhere

to the strictest privacy guidelines and requirements in the markets where Worldcoin is available.

It also claimed to be fully compliant with laws governing biometric data collection and transfer, including the GDPR.


The Worldcoin Foundation has lofty ambitions for the project beyond AI detection and which extend to promoting democracy and universal basic income (UBI):

We believe Worldcoin could drastically increase economic opportunity, scale a reliable solution for distinguishing humans from AI online while preserving privacy, enable global democratic processes, and eventually show a potential path to AI-funded UBI.

Despite the controversy and its antithetical nature to the pseudonymous features of most crypto tokens, Worldcoin presents itself as an innovative and ground-breaking solution to tackle some of the problems caused by the rapid development of AI. With its much publicized roll out this week, this "eye-catching" technology is likely to receive continued scrutiny from regulators and media around the world in the coming weeks.

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