Hong Kong privacy watchdog investigates Worldcoin over data privacy concerns

Hong Kong has launched an investigation into the identity verification project Worldcoin, highlighting potential severe risks to personal data privacy.

On Jan. 31, Hong Kong’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) announced that it had conducted raids on six premises associated with Worldcoin in Hong Kong, seeking documents and information related to its operations.

The probe centers on Worldcoin’s use of iris-scanning technology, which the commission fears may contravene the personal data (privacy) ordinance’s stipulations on handling sensitive personal data.

Worldcoin’s method involves orbs that scan users’ irises to verify their identities, a process that has raised concerns over the security and use of biometric data.

Ada Chung Lai-ling, Hong Kong’s privacy commissioner for personal data, urged the public to be cautious about sharing sensitive personal information, especially through activities like iris scanning. The PCPD’s investigation aims to safeguard the privacy of Hong Kong residents by ensuring compliance with local data protection laws.

The commission also provided guidance for individuals considering providing their biometric data, emphasizing the importance of understanding the data collection’s legitimacy, scope, purpose, and intended use. It highlighted the need for clarity on data disclosure, transfer, retention periods, and the security measures in place to protect this sensitive information.

Worldcoin asserts that the biometric data collected by its orbs is processed locally and then permanently deleted, with zero-knowledge proofs employed to protect user privacy further.

Zero-knowledge proofs are a form of technology that, for example, can verify someone’s legal drinking age without disclosing their date of birth or any other personal details.

Despite its innovative approach to digital identity verification, Worldcoin has faced challenges, including the recent discontinuation of its Orb verification services in India, Brazil, and France.

As of December 2023, Worldcoin reported that over 5 million people had created accounts using the platform. The project’s expansion into Singapore and its presence in various regions worldwide indicate a growing interest in digital identity solutions, albeit accompanied by privacy concerns and regulatory scrutiny.

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