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Kenya suspends Sam Altman’s eyeball-scanning crypto project

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Kenya is pumping the brakes on Worldcoin — the eyeball-scanning crypto project launched by OpenAI founder Sam Altman. The Kenyan government has ordered Worldcoin to stop collecting data in the country while it reviews the project for potential privacy and security risks, as reported earlier by Reuters.

Worldcoin is a project that uses your iris to create a unique digital identity, which you can then link to digital currencies managed through the company’s World App. The project launched last week and has had people lining up to get their eyeballs scanned by the shiny, silver orbs Worldcoin has set up in major cities around the globe.

In a press release, the Communications Authority of Kenya says it’s going to evaluate Worldcoin due to a “lack of clarity on the security and storage” of the iris scans it’s collecting as well as the “uncertainty” surrounding the attached cryptocurrency. It also takes issue with Worldcoin offering people incentives to get their irises scanned.

According to a report from Rest of World, Kenyans received 25 worldcoins — amounting to around 7,100 Kenyan shillings (about $50) — just for signing up for the service. Rest of World also notes that “relatively few people were familiar with the goals of the project” and were instead looking to get the $50 reward. As a result of the suspension, authorities had to turn away thousands of people waiting in line to get their iris scanned, the Kenyan newspaper The Standard reports.

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Alex Blania, the CEO of Worldcoin parent company Tools for Humanity, said on Twitter that the company has paused World ID verifications as it continues “to work with local regulators to address their questions.” Blania adds that “World ID is built for privacy,” and that the company will continue its global rollout.

Kenya isn’t the only country looking into the potential risks associated with Worldcoin. Regulators in FranceGermany, and the UK are also evaluating the project and whether it may violate privacy protections. Despite this, Worldcoin maintains that “biometric data never leaves the orb” and is “permanently deleted” after you sign up. The company instead saves your IrisCode — a unique set of numbers that represents your identity.

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Worldcoin says over 2 million people have already signed up — and The Verge’s own Alex Heath is one of them.

Update August 2nd, 5:36PM ET: Added a statement from Alex Blania.

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