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The Controversy Behind Worldcoin & the Concerns Raised


Worldcoin announced the ground-breaking launch of the WLD token and protocol earlier this week. . Among its offerings lies the intriguing World ID — a revolutionary account exclusive to authentic individuals, verified through an in-person iris scan using the cutting-edge 'orb' technology developed by Tools for Humanity.

During the beta phase alone, Tools for Humanity has already amassed a user base of two million. Now, Worldcoin has set its sights on a global expansion, bringing the transformative power of "orbing" to 35 major cities spanning 20 diverse countries.

In a bid to attract early adopters, Worldcoin entices potential users with a proposition: sign up in select countries and receive the WLD cryptocurrency token as a gesture of appreciation. This move aims to fuel enthusiasm and participation in the burgeoning Worldcoin community.

By integrating cryptocurrencies into World IDs — an innovative leap empowered by blockchain technology, it combines secure storage with unwavering privacy. As co-founder Alex Blania asserts, this approach liberates stored information from the grasp of any centralised authority, safeguarding it against control or shutdown.

In an age brimming with generative artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots, like ChatGPT, the World ID project takes centre stage, illuminating the urgency of establishing verifiable digital identities. Within this realm of sophisticated language generation, World IDs emerge as a vital tool to distinguish between authentic individuals and AI bots, thus upholding the integrity of online interactions.

On the sunny island of Singapore, the Worldcoin meetup is being held at OGBC Serviced Office. The link shows that all slots this month have already been reserved.

OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman and his Worldcoin co-founder Alex Bania also tweeted about the launch of the open-source global project, with the former even pointing out that, “we especially love our haters, it gives us energy, please keep it coming!” It would be evident that they are very much aware of the negativity of Worldcoin’s launch.

But besides merely mocking the nay-sayers, will the company do anything about the actual risks and issues that many have brought up?

Obtaining Your Very Own World ID
Before diving into the controversy surrounding Worldcoin that many have raised, how can one obtain a World ID?

To initiate the process, users undergo an iris scan — an in-person data collection facilitated by the Worldcoin "Orb." This sleek silver ball, brimming with cameras and sensors, captivates the essence of biometric information with stunning precision.

But here lies a pivotal step — the user's consent to biometric data collection. The consent form presents three distinct options, each bearing significant implications. Users can opt to disagree, bypassing the scan altogether. Alternatively, they may agree to the Orb scan but choose to opt-out of data custody, ensuring that their image data remains untouched and unstored. Finally, for those willing to take the leap, the third option beckons —an agreement to both the Orb scan and data custody. For those who select the third option, their valuable data sets sail to the shores of "teams in the European Union and the United States."

Part of the consent form

Red Flags and Controversy Even Before its Debut

With the launch of any new thing, there will always be a myriad of criticisms and praises, yet Worldcoin's project has ignited a fiery debate surrounding its unconventional iris-scan identity verification method, leaving many questioning the implications for personal privacy.

Among the dissenting voices was none other than the renowned whistleblower Edward Snowden, casting doubt on the wisdom of employing our very body parts for identity checks. Furthermore, the contentious decision to allocate 20% of the entire Worldcoin supply to the development team — commonly known as "premine" — has not escaped criticism.

Edward’s tweets about Worldcoin’s controversy back in late October 2021

Ironically, even in the midst of these controversies, Worldcoin forges ahead, staunchly positioning its technology as a privacy-first protocol, bursting with potential applications.

Problems actually started way before its launch. Worldcoin found itself amidst a storm of increasing media coverage, exposing practices that have sparked controversy and raised serious privacy concerns. The spotlight shone on their questionable approach of hiring external companies to capture people's iris data, leading to allegations of corruption and potential violations of privacy laws.

From managing disgruntled Orb operators to suspicions surrounding the company's intentions of amassing vast amounts of biometrics for a novel blockchain-era authentication technology, the journey has been far from smooth. Confidential company presentations, Orb operator contracts, internal marketing materials, and insightful discussions between Orb operators and Worldcoin executives — backed by interviews with eight current and former Orb operators (as of last April) — painted a compelling picture of frustration and disappointment among those the company aims to support.

The situation extends across borders, drawing messages of outrage from users across the globe, particularly in Africa and Asia, demanding the fulfillment of promises made.

For the Orb operators, their journey had been marred by a host of challenges, bringing to light a series of troubling issues that demand attention. Reports indicate that these operators have encountered not only arrest and harassment but also experienced delays in receiving their payments. Moreover, a shifting wage structure has left them grappling with financial feasibility.

Adding to their woes were persistent glitches in the Orb's technology, undermining the smoothness of the sign-up process and inadvertently paving the way for fraudulent activities. These operational hurdles have raised significant concerns about the viability and integrity of the Orb's functioning.

Alex explained that, “Quite surely, in some places, communication, marketing, all of those things, could have been clearer and better. And we will improve that," acknowledging that people were upset but indicating that the company is learning and improving through its field testing.

However, Alex refuted the notion that Worldcoin's intentions revolve around harvesting the world's eyeballs in exchange for a potentially worthless cryptocurrency at that time. He dismissed such claims, emphasising that this perspective is entirely misguided. Instead, he asserted that Worldcoin's true aspiration is to introduce crypto to the entire world, ensuring equitable distribution without anyone claiming an unfair share. The seemingly controversial use of biometric data through Orb scans, according to him, represents the most viable approach in achieving this vision.

Major Concerns Raised After its Debut
In an insightful blog post released shortly after Worldcoin's launch, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin delved into his apprehensions surrounding Worldcoin. Central to his concerns is Worldcoin's user authentication system, aptly named "Proof-of-Personhood" (PoP), which he identifies as the focal point of unease.

On Worldcoin’s blog post, it explains that, “…proof of personhood (PoP) is a mechanism that establishes an individual’s humanness and uniqueness. It can be thought of as the first and most fundamental building block in establishing digital identity.”

Layers of digital identity as explained on Worldcoin’s blog post

Why is PoP needed? Imagine a digital realm fortified against malicious actors and AI-generated misinformation. How might we achieve this secure and authentic online environment? Enter PoP, a solution that employs account authentication to naturally limit rates, shielding us from sybil attacks on a substantial level. PoP also goes beyond the norm by empowering us to filter out content and accounts based on their human verification status. Tackling the virulent spread of AI-generated disinformation becomes feasible with this innovative approach though PoP is by no means a solution to solve all our digital woes.

How can Worldcoin help establish PoP? It stated on the blog post,

“Worldcoin recently introduced a privacy-first, decentralised and permissionless identity protocol, known as World ID, to help establish PoP on a global scale. In order to build World ID, the teams developing the Worldcoin project first established a proof of personhood mechanism based on a custom biometric imaging device known as the Orb. Once a person has verified their humanness at an Orb, they can receive a unique PoP credential on a compatible digital wallet.”

But as the launch is still fresh, we will have to wait and see how PoP will play out for Worldcoin.

Coming back to Vitalik’s blog post, he Vitalik outlined four major concerns surrounding PoP. First, he raised questions about its potential implications for privacy and potential release of unintended information, drawing attention to the critical need to safeguard individuals' personal information. Should a third party scan a World ID holder's iris, they could cross-reference it with the Worldcoin database, at the very least verifying whether the individual is part of the system. This raises the critical issue of data privacy and unauthorised access.

Second, he highlighted the limited accessibility of World IDs due to the challenges in obtaining the "Orb" hardware device, contemplating whether it can genuinely be inclusive and user-friendly for diverse global communities.

A keen eye for decentralisation marks the third concern, as Vitalik explored how PoP could impact the distribution of power within the Worldcoin ecosystem. With no reliable means to verify its construction without backdoors, concerns arise over potential vulnerabilities in the system. The possibility of the Worldcoin Foundation inserting a backdoor, enabling the creation of fraudulent human identities, adds another layer of complexity and security risks.

Finally, he turned his attention to the paramount issue of security, scrutinising the measures in place to protect user data and the integrity of the platform, which could become targets for hacking attempts. In such scenarios, users could be coerced into relinquishing their iris scans, leading to grave implications for individual security and privacy.

ZachXBT, a renowned crypto sleuth, has emerged as a vocal critic, voicing concerns about the company's purported lack of pristine reputation. In particular, ZachXBT finds the Worldcoin team's unabashed boasting about their user base particularly troubling, “Most alarming to me is how the Worldcoin team has boasted about how many users they have. How so?”

Dylan LeClair, an analyst, criticised Worldcoin’s tokenomics in his tweets.

Among the many who shared similar sentiments, a prevailing sense of anger emerged concerning the privacy implications linked to Worldcoin's utilisation of eye scans. Notably, Worldcoin has fervently emphasised its commitment to privacy in its official announcements. However, despite these assurances, many remain sceptical of the project's claims. Privacy-related concerns have undoubtedly taken centre stage in the discourse surrounding Worldcoin's much-anticipated launch.

With these thought-provoking concerns in mind, Worldcoin faces an intriguing challenge: how will they address these potential pitfalls and instill confidence in their user authentication system? In addition, how does Worldcoin intend to reconcile these seemingly contradictory stances? And what safeguards and assurances are in place to protect user data and instill confidence in this ambitious venture?

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