Spanish regulators have ordered Worldcoin to pause operations over fears that the company’s eyeball-scanning technology may intrude on users’ privacy.  

Worldcoin — co-founded by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman in 2019 —  uses orbs to scan people’s eyes in exchange for a digital ID and some cryptocurrency.  

According to the order issued by Spain’s privacy watchdog yesterday, Worldcoin must stop collecting and processing personal data in the country. It must also stop processing any data it previously collected there.

The agency said in a statement that it had received various complaints against the company that range from gathering the personal information of minors to not allowing people to withdraw their consent.

The Spanish authority is using “urgency procedure” powers contained in the EU’s GDPR for the temporary data processing cessation order — which means it can have a maximum duration of three months. 

“The AEPD is circumventing EU law with their actions today, which are limited to Spain and not the broader EU, and spreading inaccurate and misleading claims about our technology globally,” Jannick Preiwisch, data protection officer at Worldcoin, told the Financial Times

“Our efforts to engage with the AEPD and provide them with an accurate view of Worldcoin and World ID have gone unanswered for months,” he added.  

While this marks the first time a European country has moved against Worldcoin, the company has had its fair share of controversy. 

Last year, Kenya ordered the project to shut down until more stringent regulations were put in place. Meanwhile, Worldcoin is currently under investigation in the UK, France, and Germany. 

Altman and his co-founder Alex Blania launched Worldcoin to provide users with a “World ID.” This digital identity, based on a scan of a human iris, is intended to act as a “proof of personhood” in a digital landscape rife with scams, bots, and even AI imposters. 

Despite the “digital passport” label, World ID is not intended to reveal or verify a user’s identity. It merely establishes the user as “a unique and real person”, rather than a bot.

However, privacy experts are concerned about Worldcoin’s collection of biometric data and how, exactly, the project will keep and protect that data. 

Worldcoin currently operates at 29 locations in Spain, and has reportedly registered 4 million users across 120 countries since hitting the market in July 2023.

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