Worldcoin Project Ordered to Halt Operations in Hong Kong Over Privacy Violations

Worldcoin project suffered a major setback after Hong Kong's regulator banned its iris scanning operations for flouting privacy rules on data collection.

Key Insights

  • Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog ordered Worldcoin to halt its iris and facial scanning operations in the city for violating data protection laws.
  • Worldcoin failed to adequately inform participants about data practices, risks involved, and collected unnecessary facial images.
  • The cryptocurrency project must destroy all previously collected Hong Kong data within two months and cannot conduct further biometric scans.

HONG KONG (MarketsXplora) – Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog has ordered Worldcoin, a cryptocurrency project aiming to distribute a digital currency to billions, to immediately stop collecting iris and facial scan data in the city, saying its operations violated data protection laws.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) on Wednesday issued an enforcement notice against Worldcoin after concluding a four-month investigation that found serious breaches of the city’s privacy ordinance.

“Collecting biometric data on such a massive scale failed to comply with the requirements of the data protection principles under the privacy law,” Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung Lai-ling told MarketsXplora.

The PCPD launched its probe in January to assess whether Worldcoin’s use of iris scanning devices to verify human participants posed risks to citizens’ personal data privacy.

Through covert inspections at half a dozen premises between December and January, investigators found Worldcoin was unlawfully collecting facial images unnecessary for proving participants were “human”, given in-person operators could already do so.

The project also failed to adequately inform the public in understandable terms about its data practices and the risks involved, the PCPD said, noting instructions were only available in English despite many non-English speakers taking part.

“The iris scanning device operators…did not confirm the participants’ understanding of the aforesaid documents. They also did not inform the participants the possible risks…nor answered their questions,” the commissioner’s office said.

Worldcoin must destroy all previously collected Hong Kong data within two months and is prohibited from further data collection involving iris or facial scans in the Chinese territory, the PCPD ruled.

Founded in 2021, the Silicon Valley project has signed up over 2 million people globally ahead of its official launch last July by giving free cryptocurrency to those who get their iris patterns recorded to prove they are unique humans.

But its methods have sparked investigations by privacy regulators worldwide over concerns about biometric data gathering and misuse. Services have already been suspended in Kenya and iris scanning paused in Spain.

A Worldcoin spokesperson said the company aims to comply fully with the Hong Kong enforcement notice and appreciates the commissioner’s guidance on operating lawfully in the city.

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