Are the walls closing in?

Pondering the Orb

Germany announced Friday that it has been quietly investigating Worldcoin, a new iris-scanning cryptocurrency venture by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman — which seemingly brings the total number of European investigations into the scheme up to three, signaling what could be a tough regulatory road ahead for the project.

As Reuters reports, the president of the Bavarian State Office for Data Protection Supervision, Germany's data watchdog, confirmed that it had been investigating Worldcoin since November 2022 over concerns that the venture would be accessing "sensitive data at a very large scale."

Though it was officially launched last Monday, Worldcoin has for the past two years been scanning irises around the globe into its database, an effort that the company says will connect human identity to individual biometric data and help users confirm that they are humans in the burgeoning age of artificial intelligence.

By our count, now Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have all launched investigations into it. And the project is declining to pay users for their eye scans in the United States, citing regulatory issues.

Coin of the Realm

There's a glimmer of an interesting idea in the project, but critiques abound.

As Futurism and Gizmodo both noted when they sent reporters to get their irises scanned by the project, for instance, Orb operators didn't require any prior identification or verification that participants are who they say they are. Participants in the project's trial run in the developing world have said that they felt cheated by the exchange. And it's not clear whether a person can request to have their information scrubbed from the company's database, since it involves a blockchain.

The company has been circulating a white paper which claims that two separate firms have found that Worldcoin was secure on a number of fronts, including "data privacy, data leaking and information integrity."

All the same, neither these European data watchdogs — and even Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, whose blockchain Worldcoin lives on — are convinced that this kind of "proof-of-personhood" project is ready for primetime.

"If even one Orb manufacturer is malicious or hacked," Buterin wrote in a blog post about Worldcoin, "it can generate an unlimited number of fake iris scan hashes, and give them World IDs."

Bottom line? Until we learn more about what makes Worldcoin tick and what it's doing with our data, we're not quite convinced.

More on data: Godlike Hack Steals Encrypted Keys by Watching LED From 16 Meters Away

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