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Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog accuses Worldcoin of violating data laws

hong-kongs-privacy-watchdog-accuses-worldcoin-of-violating-data-laws
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Hong Kong’s privacy watchdog accuses Worldcoin of violating data laws

Hong Kong’s privacy regulator has found that Worldcoin contravened local privacy laws, required the Worldcoin Foundation to cease all operations in the region.

Worldcoin, an iris biometric crypto startup co-founded by OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman, has found itself embroiled in controversy over its data collection practices in Hong Kong.

According to a report released by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) on May 22, the project has been found to contravene Hong Kong’s personal data (privacy) ordinance, posing risks to privacy associated with the way how the San Francisco-headquartered startup handles biometric data.

The Privacy Commissioner, Ada Chung Lai-ling said the face and iris images collected by the Worldcoin project were “unnecessary and excessive,” violating the local requirements.

The findings showed that Worldcoin’s data collection practices were unfair and lacked transparency as the relevant privacy notice and biometric data consent form were not available in Chinese, PCPD said, adding that operators didn’t adequately explain the documents to participants. Worldcoin’s retention of personal data for up to 10 years was also deemed excessive.

“The retention period was too long and amounted to prolonged retention of personal data.”

Ada Chung

Additionally, Worldcoin appears to have also failed to inform participants of their data access and correction rights, further violating privacy laws. As a result, the Privacy Commissioner has issued an enforcement notice directing Worldcoin to “cease all operations of the Worldcoin project in Hong Kong in scanning and collecting iris and face images of members of the public using iris scanning devices.”

According to PCPD’s investigation, over 8,300 individuals in Hong Kong had their biometric data scanned to receive WLD, tokens designed to facilitate global transactions within the Worldcoin ecosystem. As of press time, Worldcoin made no public statements on the matter.

Founded in 2019 by Sam Altman, Max Novendstern, and Alex Blania, Worldcoin is a crypto project aimed at creating a global digital identity platform using iris-scanning technology. In May 2023, the project secured $115 million in a Series C funding round led by Blockchain Capital with participation from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), Bain Capital Crypto, and Distributed Global​.