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Kenya suspends Worldcoin cryptocurrency, data protection probe

Kenya suspends Worldcoin cryptocurrency, data protection probe
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Kin Cheung/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved


Kenya announced on Wednesday that it was suspending the Worldcoin cryptocurrency, whose verification system is based on iris recognition, pending the outcome of investigations into "the security and protection of data" collected by the company.

Launched at the end of June in Germany by OpenAI boss Sam Altman, the Worldcoin system is also under investigation by European regulators, notably in France and Germany.

Worldcoin is intended to become a kind of blockchain-based digital passport, enabling users to prove their identity online without sharing personal data. To obtain this sesame, users must undergo an iris scan by an "orb", a biometric device designed by Worldcoin.

On Wednesday, the Kenyan Ministry of Home Affairs announced in a statement that it was "immediately suspending Worldcoin activities until the relevant government agencies certify the absence of any risk to the public."

This cryptocurrency is enjoying a certain degree of success in this East African country, plagued in particular by sustained inflation.

On Tuesday, in the capital Nairobi, several thousand people lined up in shopping malls and the main conference center to undergo an iris scan before receiving the equivalent of 7,000 shillings (45 euros) in virtual currency, an AFP journalist observed. Most people then immediately resold their "tokens".

"Concerned about the activities (of Worldcoin) which is involved in registering citizens through the collection of eyeball/iris data", the government said it had launched investigations "to establish the authenticity and legality of the activities, the security and protection of the data collected and how the collectors intend to use the data".

Contacted by AFP, Worldcoin has not yet reacted to the suspension.

In the crosshairs of several European regulators, this cryptocurrency is not yet available in the United States, where the authorities are trying to better regulate the sector.

Worldcoin spent three years developing its project, and two million people signed up during the test phase to obtain a digital passport dubbed "World ID".

In April, BuzzFeed reported on the anger of some of them, who feel trapped by the company's promises after agreeing to scan their irises. Interviewed by the news site, Worldcoin co-founder Alex Blania admitted that communication could have been "better in some cases".

Some 1,500 "orbs" will be deployed worldwide to enable millions of other users to sign up, according to the Worldcoin website.

The value of the token, initially $1.70, jumped to $3.58, before falling back to $2.37, according to CoinMarketCap.

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