It has emerged that Kenyans have shown the highest level of interest in the Worldcoin cryptocurrency project, surpassing subscriptions from thirty-four other countries where similar operations were launched.
However, the enthusiasm surrounding this digital initiative is met with growing apprehension, as questions arise about data privacy and security.
The Office of the Director of Computer and Cyber Crime revealed a startling revelation on Tuesday, shedding light on the Worldcoin cryptocurrency venture.
The American firm behind the project discreetly recruited agents who were strategically stationed across thirty locations in Nairobi.
These agents were tasked with the collection and scanning of iris data for transmission.
Appearing before the National Assembly Adhoc Committee, David Njoka, the agency's Head of Cyber-security Standards and Policy, provided crucial insights into the Worldcoin project.
Njoka explained that Worldcoin had initially masqueraded as a research institution, only to later escalate its operations to involve the processing of substantial amounts of data, ultimately putting unsuspecting Kenyans at risk.
"A week after the launch of Worldcoin cryptocurrency on 22nd of July," Njoka remarked,
"They announced that they have registered over 350,000 Kenyans and in terms of the numbers of data registered globally. Kenyans amounted to around 25 per cent which is something of concern."
The concerns are further heightened by the revelation that the collected data was intended to be stored in Amazon Web Services in the United States, raising issues about data sovereignty and control.
"From our interviews they mentioned that the data was transferred to the Amazon servers based in the US," Njoka stated.
"They had indicated that the data is secure but that needs deeper investigations."
Worldcoin's ambitious objective was to register a staggering 8 billion individuals onto its cryptocurrency platform, employing retina/iris scans for authentication.
Operating in Kenya under the guidance of local representatives, Wangechi Maina and Rael Mwende, the project partnered with local firms including Platinum De Plus Limited, EXP Kenya, and Sense Marketing.
Since November 2022, Worldcoin engaged several local companies to recruit casual agents who assisted Kenyans in downloading the World Coin App and capturing their iris data.
This raises significant concerns as, through iris-based user verification, the cryptocurrency project may have gained access to sensitive information without ensuring its safety.
"They don't have a physical office, I think they need to be investigated for doing what they were doing without necessary approvals," Njoka remarked.
"A multi international company coming to Kenya to allege to be conducting research involving sensitive information and they wanted the data to be able to train their model in the artificial intelligence platform, they did this without having due approvals given to them," Njoka explained, emphasizing the potential regulatory issues.
With over 4 million active cryptocurrency users in Kenya, the swift adoption of Worldcoin and similar cryptocurrencies sparks concerns about the stability of such digital ventures.
"The rate at which Worldcoin was being adopted, just like other cryptocurrencies, is also alarming to our country," Njoka stated.
"Because 350k in one week is quite high, contributing 25 per cent of their customers."
Amidst these concerns, questions about the transparency of Worldcoin's operations echo in other nations as well, including France, India, Germany, and the UK.
Worldcoin's offer of 25 free tokens, valued at approximately Sh7,000, drew thousands of Kenyans to various sign-up points across the capital city of Nairobi.
The Kenyatta International Conference Center witnessed an influx of individuals seeking to have their iris patterns scanned.
Worldcoin, founded by OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman, introduced the concept of a unique digital identity, "World ID," which is established through iris scans.
This endeavour aims to tackle the anonymity issues that plague the cryptocurrency industry, such as spam bots and scams.
With over 2.1 million people globally signed up for Worldcoin, with iris scans conducted in 34 countries, the project's international footprint is undeniable.
Currently trading at $2.37, up from the initial price of $1.70, Worldcoin's trajectory continues to captivate attention and raise crucial questions about the intersection of technology, finance, and personal privacy.