Kenya Cancels Worldcoin’s License – User Data at Risk

Kenya Cancels Worldcoin's License With 301,000 User Data at Risk

The Kenyan government cancelled the operating license for Tools for Humanity, the software company behind the identity crypto protocol Worldcoin, after revelations that the project’s iris scans made some people sick, according to local media reports.

Worldcoin was already under suspension by Kenya’s Ministry of the Interior. The country’s financial, security, and data protection agencies have been investigating the legitimacy and data safety of the Sam Altman-backed project since early August.

Also read: Worldcoin: Witness Tells Kenyan Parliament He Got Eye Problems After Iris Scan

Worldcoin CEO: ‘We don’t sell user data’

On Sept. 6, Alex Blania, co-founder and CEO of German-based Tools for Humanity, appeared in person before the Parliamentary Committee investigating Worldcoin in the Kenyan capital Nairobi to defend his organization, according to the online publication BitcoinKE.

His testimony came one day after a witness, Marube Mogusu, told the same committee that he developed eye problems after getting a scan of his iris using Worldcoin’s so-called Orb device. Mogusu said he had to see a doctor after his eyes “started becoming watery.”

Blania revealed that around 635,000 people in Kenya have so far downloaded the Worldcoin app. Of these, 301,000 users have registered and had their details verified. Some 195,000 are yet to be scanned, leaving a total of five million Worldcoin tokens “in abeyance,” he said.

The CEO, who was reportedly “grilled” by the seventeen-member Ad Hoc Committee of Inquiry on Worldcoin, denied several allegations leveled against his project, including accusations of mishandling personal data.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Worldcoin does not and never will involve the collection or selling of data,” Blania told the lawmakers.

“No one—not even Tools for Humanity—can link biometric data to World ID. Further, the majority of the internal schematics and technical details of the technology are publicly available on the internet for everyone to review,” he added.

Worldcoin gives people free money in exchange for a scan of their irises. The company has captured the unique biometric identifiers of people in 120 countries. It wants to create a digital World ID that separates humans from AI. In Kenya, users got 25 WLD coins, or $60, before its suspension.

Kenya Cancels Worldcoin's License – User Data at Risk
Alex Blania (center) appearing before the Kenyan Parliamentary Committee, Sept. 6, 2023. Image credits: BitcoinKE

Worldcoin protests license cancellation

In his address to the Committee, Blania also spoke about Worldcoin’s data collection and protection practices. He said the device known as Orb scans a person’s iris, and the scanned image is then converted into a distinctive code.

The data is stored on servers located in South Africa, Germany, Italy, and Poland. The iris code is stored in the U.S., per the BitcoinKE report. Worldcoin chief legal officer Scott Thomas said the company lost its operating license on the eve of its appearance before the Committee.

Kenya’s data agency, the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, or ODPC, cancelled the license, which was originally issued in June 2022.

“ODPC revoked our certificate yesterday evening, and no doubt this is of interest. They provided four reasons for the cancellation, and we respectfully think that the cancellation was outside the normal process and the correct underlying facts”, Thomas said.

“We subsequently engaged with the office of the data commissioner and secured a registration certificate as data controllers; as late as August 2, 2023, CS Eliud Owalo said that we were operating within the law,” he added.

Blania, the Tools for Humanity CEO, urged Kenyan lawmakers to investigate Worldcoin’s suspension and license cancellation. He wants regulators to allow the company to continue with its operations in the East African country under regulatory supervision.

“We want to request that the committee investigate this matter with a view to creating regulations. The company prays that the committee finds that WorldCoin did not engage in any wrongdoing, and we pray that the suspension be lifted with the necessary legal and regulatory oversight,” Blania said.

At the time of writing, Worldcoin’s WLD token was down 5.7% at $1.23, according to data from CoinGecko. The token has lost 67% of its value since its launch on July 24.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.