Hong Kong Initiates Investigation into Worldcoin Over Privacy Concerns

Feb. 1, 2024
Hong Kong Initiates Investigation into Worldcoin Over Privacy Concerns

The Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) has initiated an investigation into Worldcoin, an iris biometric crypto project founded by OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman. Local media outlet HKET reported that PCPD investigated six Worldcoin offices using a court warrant on Jan.31. The privacy watchdog also requested the operators to share relevant information and documents.

According to the PCPD, Worldcoin raises significant concerns about privacy and could potentially violate data laws. Launched in Hong Kong in July last year, the project attracted a large number of participants. The Worldcoin’s crypto wallet application, World App, saw over 1 million active users and garnered over 4 million downloads within six months of its launch.

The project introduces a novel way to authenticate users online through iris scans. Users use special “Orbs” devices to scan their eyes, creating a unique “World ID” tied to their iris patterns. These IDs connect users’ identities with their digital records stored on the blockchain.

According to the report, Hong Kong users receive 25 WLDs as a reward after completing iris verification and registration. Altman stated that these digital IDs derived from iris scanning will enable users to prove online that they are human, especially in a future world dominated by AI.

Worldcoin Draws Global Regulatory Probes

The PCPD stated that the collection and processing of such data by Worldcoin may be in contravention of the requirements of Hong Kong’s Personal Data Privacy Ordinance – a 1995 law issued to safeguard individuals’ privacy regarding personal data. Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung Lai-ling warned the public, emphasizing the sensitivity of biometric data like iris scans.

Lai-ling stated:

“Members of the public should carefully protect their sensitive personal data and avoid participating in any activities that collect sensitive personal data, such as iris scanning, arbitrarily.”

Last year, Worldcoin CEO Alex Blania defended the Orb-verification service at the Kenyan Parliament following data privacy concerns. The project has also ceased its Orb-verification service in France, Brazil, and India.

Hong Kong Increases Scrutiny Over Data Privacy

According to local media reports, there was a 50% rise in reported hacking and breach incidents in Hong Kong last year. Approximately one-third of these cases involved public sector organizations.

The rise in data breaches has led to increased scrutiny and monitoring. Reuters previously reported Hong Kong is set to promote new security measures, stating that the city “cannot afford to wait.” Moreover, in November 2022 and November 2023, more than 73% of Hong Kong businesses were hit by cyberattacks, as per a report from the Hong Kong Productivity Council and Privacy Office.

Syed Ali Haider

Researcher & Editor
Ali Haider is a Blockchain enthusiast and writer passionate about enhancing the acceptance, adoption, and integration of Blockchain technology worldwide. He has also advocated for digital freedom and cybersecurity for many years.