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“When you are a mileurist, everything suits you”: the dangers of cryptocurrency that requires a photo of the iris


Highlights: The Worldcoin app was the most downloaded in Spain this Tuesday for iPhone. Since last Thursday, the value of the currency has multiplied by three, to more than 6 euros. In exchange for the photo of the iris, the app releases 13 Worldcoin digital currencies, which this week are equivalent to about 80 euros. The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) has already received four complaints about Worldcoin, which they are analyzing. “Spain is really a country of pioneers, it already happened with WhatsApp,” says Trevor Traina, head of Global Affairs.

The Worldcoin cryptocurrency is all the rage in Spain, where it already has more than 360,000 users, but experts warn of the dangers of linking the iris with private personal information

An employee at the La Vaguada shopping center (Madrid) did not understand: “Until Sunday there was no one and today, look.”

She was pointing to a line of about twenty people waiting for an Orb, a metal sphere the size of an indoor soccer ball, to photograph their irises.

That photo gives access to the digital currency Worldcoin, co-founded by ChatGPT creator Sam Altman.

Since last Thursday, the value of the currency has multiplied by three, to more than 6 euros.

In exchange for the photo of the iris, the app releases 13 Worldcoin digital currencies, which this week are equivalent to about 80 euros.

“When you are a mileurista, everything suits you,” says Jorge's partner, who has come to La Vaguada to register, in reference to that money.

Other Worldcoin users are reluctant to give their name to a journalist, to talk about their decision after taking a photo of the iris: “I am an ordinary citizen, Google already has all my data, I don't think the eye contributes much” says Jorge himself.

More information

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The explosion in Spain is real.

Since Sunday, the searches have caused queues in many of the 30 Spanish shopping centers where irises are photographed.

Now the photo is taken only by appointment and the reservations for some scanning positions were almost sold out.

Experts, however, warn of the danger to user privacy.

The Worldcoin app was the most downloaded in Spain this Tuesday for iPhone (ahead of those of the Threads social network, the Temu online store and the

Operación Triunfo

program ), which is the most popular phone among young people, and was the fourth for Android phones.

In the world there are 3.5 million people registered in Worldcoin, of which more than 10% are Spanish: there are more than 360,000 holders in Spain, according to company data.

“Spain is really a country of pioneers, it already happened with WhatsApp,” says Trevor Traina, head of Global Affairs at Worldcoin, by videoconference from San Francisco to EL PAÍS.

Registrations are currently available in 35 countries.

great meetings today in warsaw, paris, and london.

and…since I was out of the US, I finally got signed up for worldcoin!

— Sam Altman (@sama) May 23, 2023

The majority of people queuing this Tuesday in Madrid are kids in their twenties.

There is also a Glovo delivery man, several women, a grandmother with her grandson.

Most have found out from a friend or family member, because of the news of the growth of the digital currency.

Others because they were attentive to the movement of new cryptocurrencies.

Manuel, 71 years old, explains that he has already invested in bitcoin and has time to register in Worldcoin: “I don't know if I will do it, is the eye thing dangerous?” he asks.

Four complaints in the AEPD

Few people are concerned about the intrusion on their privacy of letting a company store their irises without knowing what happens next.

The Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) has already received four complaints about Worldcoin, which they are analyzing.

They have not yet decided whether to continue investigating.

“Every large company has several investigations going on,” says Trevor Traina, citing the example of Meta.

“Our system is probably the most sophisticated in the world and so the regulators need time to digest it, so they are just doing their job,” he adds.

If Worldcoin manages to grow much before a decision by the AEPD, its application will be more complex.

Why has it exploded now?

At Worldcoin they defend the theory that it is because of Sora, the text-based video generator that OpenAI announced last Thursday: “We all collectively experienced a seismic event.

It was the first time that an average person saw something and said 'My God, any video, any image can be created from nothing.

Who are we going to trust now?” says Traina, referring to Sora.

The Worldcoin app, called World App, has another function in addition to cryptocurrency: a World ID.

The iris photo is “proof of humanity,” according to the company.

If, due to artificial intelligence, robots can become more like humans, World ID would certify the humanity of a network user, a video game player or a buyer.

Worldcoin already has agreements with the news aggregate Reddit or the commercial platform Shopify to deploy services based on World ID.

But in the lines of the shopping centers no one was worried about demonstrating their humanity.

Money is more important.

“They are giving away money,” says a young man of Latin American origin who is waiting in line at a crypto ATM on Francisco Silvela Street in Madrid.

“There are people who bring up to 1,000 euros to change,” says an ATM employee.

Worldcoin, available since summer 2023, gives more coins if you invite new users and if you log in periodically.

Some have thus accumulated several hundred euros that they now rush to exchange to take advantage of the increase.

The cryptocurrency market is also experiencing a global rise in recent days.

This free money is no different from what other cryptocurrencies have used to gain new users.

“No financial system can be pumping out new money indefinitely,” says Felix Hoops, a researcher at the Technical University of Munich (Germany).

“I guess they give out free money for a while to get people excited to use their system.



has its challenge to get started,” he adds.

Worldcoin uses the trust generated by Sam Altman and his speech that when machines take over, a universal basic income will be necessary.

Altman has a side project called OpenResearch that studies options for creating a basic income.

“This is not a basic income, which would be a constant and regular payment to all participants,” says Nick Almond, founder of Factory Labs and specialist in cryptoeconomics.

“What Worldcoin does is an


a one-time payment for registering.

They've said some pretty vague things about how AI is going to generate huge profits, which they're going to then distribute to people who have a World ID, but this has no real bearing on the economics of OpenAI.

Money comes from its currency, the price of which can vary greatly,” adds Almond.

What happens to the iris

The big fear linked to Worldcoin is, however, the iris photo.

Comparisons with chapters of the dystopian series

Black Mirror

They are constant.

Edward Snowden asked in 2021 that “pupils not be classified.”

The Worldcoin team defends that they do not do anything more serious than other large companies.

His speech tends to defend that if we have already been losing privacy in pieces at the hands of multiple companies, it is not about losing a little more.

Now it's the eyes, specifically.

It's like chopping up human privacy until there's barely anything left.

This looks like it produces a global (hash) database of people's iris scans (for "fairness"), and waves away the implications by saying "we deleted the scans!"

Yeah, but you save the *hashes* produced by the scans.

Hashes that match *future* scans.

Don't catalog eyeballs.

— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 23, 2021

When photographing the iris, Worldcoin gives the option to create a unique code with that information and destroy the image or allow them to keep the photo itself.

But no one is sure what really happens on the servers: “Apple, Samsung, Google and so many companies in my daily life know a lot about me,” says Trevor Haina of Worldcoin.

“Both biometric and personal data and who knows where all that information is.

When we enter the subway, when we pass through an airport, we give up a lot.

I find it ironic that a group of German scientists who have spent years [working at World ID] and spent hundreds of millions of dollars protecting you compare them to the subway,” Haina adds.

In the conversation with EL PAÍS, Haina repeatedly mentions the “German scientists” who have developed the World ID protocol, as if they were further proof of rigor, but the company has not shared any more concrete details.

Worldcoin also says it does not link personal private information to the iris code.

Even if the user prefers that World ID retains the original iris photo (and not the generated code).

This, however, is where the complexity begins to grow over what type of data could be linked.

Privacy expert Matthew Greene has conducted a thorough analysis of the details of Worldcoin.

He saw fewer obvious dangers than he anticipated, but he still didn't agree: the company "could link the iris code to other types of private personal information that they would have optionally collected, such as phone numbers or email," Greene maintains.

Intended uses of iris harvesting can be commercial, for example: “The data that Worldcoin collects is used to train very powerful biometric algorithms and we don't know what it can be used for,” says Almond.

The uses of these algorithms in the coming years are now unsuspected, for this specialist in cryptoeconomics: “If we are cynical, we could see all this as a trick to use crypto incentives to train their algorithms, which they will then sell to the highest bidder.

I am concerned that they will sell the algorithms or the hardware [the Orb ball] to private or state actors who will use them without the privacy features.

If that happens, what we achieve is that super-efficient surveillance tools become popular.”

These are some of the expected dangers.

There are also those that are unexpected or that Worldcoin does not foresee right now: from loss or theft to counterfeiting, through now unimaginable commercial decisions.

Experts repeat that the best way to control privacy is to no longer collect data, especially if it is biometric.

There are more problems added to this entire process.

If the World ID is to demonstrate humanity, will all humans have to approach the Orb balls to take a photo?

It is unfeasible to do it on a large scale.

“The biggest problem is that the gateway to the system is this Orb, of which there are only a handful,” Hoops says.

Faced with comparisons with the television series

Black Mirror,

the company sees, above all, opportunities: “Maybe in the future we will look back and say that this was the moment.

It was the moment we all opened our eyes.

It's easy to imagine that you'll want to validate that any video or photo is authentic because, in the future, who will know if it was real?

“It’s crazy, if you think about it right now,” adds Traina.

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Source: elparis

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