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Kenya’s ambitious foray into cryptocurrencies has hit a snag as the government takes measures to address data privacy and security concerns surrounding the newly launched Worldcoin project. 

The initiative, co-founded by Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, garnered significant attention, but its collection of citizens’ iris data has raised eyebrows locally and internationally. As relevant security, financial services, and data protection agencies launch investigations, the project’s operations have been suspended within the country, creating uncertainties for the 350,000 Kenyans who eagerly signed up. 

Worldcoin Project Suspended in Kenya

In an announcement on August 2, Kenya’s Minister of Internal Security, Kithure Kindiki, took to social media to inform the public that all local activities related to the Worldcoin cryptocurrency have been halted. 

The government’s primary concern is the project’s collection of crucial identification information, particularly the iris scans used to create a unique digital ID for participants. Until the relevant public agencies certify that there are no risks associated with the project, the suspension will remain in place.

Worldcoin’s inception was met with enthusiasm, as it aimed to tackle the growing challenge of distinguishing between human users and AI bots in an increasingly digital world. The project sought to achieve this through a proof-of-personhood digital ID system, which required individuals to scan their irises and obtain a World ID. However, this unique approach has sparked controversy, leading to both interest and concern among Kenyan citizens.

Incentives and Popularity in Kenya

Despite the suspension, Worldcoin attracted over 350,000 Kenyan participants who registered to receive free cryptocurrency tokens valued at around $49.09 each. The iris-scanning process took place at 25 different facilities in malls and supermarkets, with new users required to install the World App on their smartphones for verification. 

Upon official launch, participants who took part in the initial recruitment campaign found themselves with $132 in their accounts, though accessing the funds required additional steps through crypto wallets.

For many Kenyans, Worldcoin’s incentives offered a glimmer of hope in a country where the unemployment rate is 4.90%. Some participants expressed the urgency of the financial benefits, especially for those struggling to meet their financial obligations. However, the government’s suspension of the project has raised questions about the future of this income stream for those who relied on it.

Concerns About Scammers and Data Privacy

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The cryptocurrency sector has a history of scams, and Worldcoin was not exempt from such activities. Scammers have targeted users with limited knowledge about the project, exploiting their need for access to crypto wallets. 

Scammers have exploited the system by redirecting the tokens to their accounts and giving victims a small amount of cash. These incidents highlight the need for further scrutiny and regulation, prompting the Kenyan government to investigate the project thoroughly.

European Regulators Investigate Worldcoin

Kenya’s decisive action in suspending Worldcoin’s operations has set a precedent, making it the first country to take such measures. In contrast, European regulators have also started investigating the project, focusing on data protection aspects. 

The Bavarian data protection office, which supervises Worldcoin, is among those conducting inquiries. The international attention garnered by the project indicates the significance of addressing data privacy concerns.

Final thought

The suspension of Worldcoin’s cryptocurrency operations in Kenya demonstrates the government’s commitment to addressing potential risks to citizens’ data privacy and security. As investigations by relevant agencies unfold, the project’s fate remains uncertain. 

The enthusiasm with which Kenyans embraced the initiative underscores the importance of innovative solutions to real-world challenges. However, the need for robust data protection and regulation must be considered, given the potential implications of mishandling sensitive personal information.