Portugal Forces Sam Altman's Worldcoin to Stop Collecting Biometric Data

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Portugal's data regulator has ordered Worldcoin to stop collecting biometric data from its citizens for 90 days.

The Portuguese National Data Protection Commission (Comissão Nacional de Proteção de Dados, or CNPD) announced on March 26 that it ordered Worldcoin to suspend its ‘orb’ device from collecting data in the country.

Worldcoin is a project that combines cryptocurrency and iris scan technology to create a global digital identity system. It was started in 2019 by Tools for Humanity (TFH), a company founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Max Novendstern and Alex Blania.

Worldcoin encourages people worldwide to have their faces scanned by its ‘orb’ devices in exchange for a digital ID and free cryptocurrency – via its own token, WLD.

The objective is to drive a more unified and equitable global economy driven by the internet economy.

The project claims that over 4.5 million people in 120 countries have signed up. It has reportedly raised a total of around $240 million in funding from big-name investors like venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

While the technology behind the Worldcoin project was developed by TFH, the overall initiative is supported by the Worldcoin Foundation, an exempted limited guarantee foundation company incorporated in the Cayman Islands.

Worldcoin Could Pose a High Risk to Citizens' Data Protection Rights

The CNPD said that over 300,000 people in Portugal have provided Worldcoin with their biometric data.

However, the data watchdog also received dozens of complaints in the last month, citing Worldcoin’s unauthorized collection of data from minors, "deficiencies in the information provided to the data subjects" and "the impossibility of erasing the data or withdrawing consent."

It estimates that there is a high risk to citizens' data protection rights, which justifies urgent intervention to prevent serious harm.

The order to suspend Worldcoin’s data collection will be temporary and will allow the regulator to analyze complaints and carry out additional due diligence.

Worldcoin Denies the Accusation

Jannick Preiwisch, data protection officer at the Worldcoin Foundation, said Worldcoin was "fully compliant with all laws and regulations governing the collection and transfer of biometric data.”

"The report from CNPD is the first time we are hearing from them regarding many of these matters, including reports of underage sign-ups in Portugal, for which we have zero tolerance for and are working to address in all instances, even if a matter of a few reports," Preiwisch said in an emailed statement sent to Reuters.

However, the Portuguese suspension is not the first blow Worldcoin has faced in its quest to establish a global digital identity system.

Earlier in March, Spain's data protection regulator (Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, or AEPD) issued a similar three-month ban on Worldcoin in response to complaints.

In August 2023, Kenya, one of the first countries where Worldcoin was launched, suspended the project’s enrollment in the country, citing security, privacy and financial concerns.

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