Hong Kong regulator orders Worldcoin to cease operations over privacy concerns

abdelaziz Fathi

Hong Kong’s privacy regulator has ordered Worldcoin Foundation to cease all operations of its cryptocurrency project in the city, citing risks to privacy and personal data.

Worldcoin

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) stated on Wednesday that Worldcoin must stop scanning and collecting iris and face images from the public. The regulator described the data collection as “unnecessary and excessive.”

Worldcoin, co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, aims to create a global identity and financial network using biometric data. Over 5 million people in more than 160 countries have had their irises scanned by Worldcoin’s “orb” devices, according to the project’s website. However, the initiative has faced criticism over its collection, storage, and use of personal data.

In January, the PCPD conducted investigations at six premises linked to Worldcoin in Hong Kong, following covert visits in December and January. The watchdog found that participants had to grant permission for iris scanning to confirm their “humanness” and generate iris codes before obtaining a “digital passport” known as a World ID. Participants could then receive Worldcoin tokens, or WLD, which could be used within the Worldcoin ecosystem.

The PCPD’s findings revealed that 8,302 individuals had their faces and irises scanned during Worldcoin’s operations in Hong Kong. Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung stated that Worldcoin’s data collection practices breached provisions of the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, including those related to data collection, retention, transparency, and access and correction rights.

“The face and iris images collected by the Worldcoin project were unnecessary and excessive,” Chung said. The regulator also noted that Worldcoin’s privacy notice and biometric data consent form were not available in Chinese, and that staff did not adequately explain the documents to participants, leading to a lack of transparency.

The PCPD criticized Worldcoin for retaining personal data for up to 10 years to train artificial intelligence models on user verification, calling the retention period “too long.”

Chung urged the public to report any ongoing iris scanning services operated by Worldcoin. By Wednesday afternoon, all banners and logos of Worldcoin had been removed from its office in Jordan, according to local reports.

Commenting on the development, Worldcoin Foundation said in an email statement: “Worldcoin Foundation is disappointed by the views recently released by the regulatory authorities in Hong Kong. Worldcoin operates lawfully and is designed to be fully compliant with all laws and regulations governing data collection and use, including the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance of Hong Kong, among many other similar statutes across other markets. In an effort to prepare humanity for the age of AI, the Foundation continues to raise the privacy bar through data minimization, user control over data and advanced technology such as personal custody, iris code deletion, and secure multi-party computation. Unfortunately, the authorities in Hong Kong overlooked these aspects in their evaluation of the humanness verification process.”

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