Spain blocks Sam Altman’s eyeball-scanning venture Worldcoin


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Spain has moved to block Sam Altman’s cryptocurrency project Worldcoin, the latest blow to a venture that has raised controversy in multiple countries over plans to collect customers’ personal data using an eyeball-scanning “orb”. 

The AEPD, Spain’s data protection regulator, has demanded that Worldcoin immediately ceases collecting personal information in the country and stops using data it has already gathered.

The regulator is set to announce the “precautionary measure” on Wednesday and has given Worldcoin 72 hours to demonstrate its compliance with the order, according to an email from the AEPD seen by the Financial Times.

The AEPD flagged concerns about minors using the technology late last year, prompting Worldcoin to introduce new age verification tests. 

Worldcoin, co-founded by Altman in 2019, has been offering tokens of its own cryptocurrency to people around the world, in return for their consent to have their eyes scanned by an orb. 

The scans are used as a form of identification as it seeks to create a reliable mechanism to distinguish between humans and machines as artificial intelligence becomes more advanced.

Worldcoin was not immediately available for comment.

The Spanish regulator’s decision is the latest blow to the aspirations of the OpenAI boss and his Worldcoin co-founders Max Novendstern and Alex Blania following a series of setbacks elsewhere in the world. 

At the point of its rollout last summer, the San Francisco and Berlin headquartered start-up avoided launching its crypto tokens in the US on account of the country’s harsh crackdown on the digital assets sector. 

The Worldcoin token is also not available in major global markets such as China and India, while watchdogs in Kenya last year ordered the project to shut down operations. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has previously said it would be making inquiries into Worldcoin. 

While some jurisdictions have raised concerns about the viability of a Worldcoin cryptocurrency token, Spain’s latest crackdown targets the start-up’s primary efforts to establish a method to prove customers’ “personhood” — work that Altman characterises as essential in a world where sophisticated AI is harder to distinguish from humans. 

In the face of growing scrutiny, Altman told the Financial Times he could imagine a world where his start-up could exist without its in-house cryptocurrency. 

Worldcoin has registered 4mn users, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Investors poured roughly $250mn into the company, including venture capital groups Andreessen Horowitz and Khosla Ventures, internet entrepreneur Reid Hoffman and, prior to the collapse of his FTX empire, Sam Bankman-Fried.

The project attracted media attention and prompted a handful of consumer complaints in Spain as queues began to grow at the stands in shopping centres where Worldcoin is offering cryptocurrency in exchange for eyeball scans.

In January, the data protection watchdog in the Basque country, one of Spain’s autonomous regions, issued a warning about the eye-scanning technology Worldcoin was using in a Bilbao mall. The watchdog, the AVPD, said it fell under biometric data protection rules and that a risk assessment was needed.

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