Seeing dollar signs: Sam Altman’s Worldcoin
Look at your screen. Try not to blink. Stay as still as you can. Continue looking straight ahead for a second or two. You’ve just proven you’re a human to Worldcoin’s biometric scanners.
But are you a part of an effective financial system?
Founded in 2019 by ChatGPT’s Sam Altman, Worldcoin aims to advance online identification using biometric data and blockchain technology. It’s offering a better means of authentic verification in the form of what Altman calls World IDs, solving personal, credential, and potentially life-threatening problems online.
The main issue here? The Internet, as a system, is flawed.
We’re not just talking about bad connections or poorly designed sites. We’re also talking about bots, scammers, fraud, data selling, untrustworthy terms, and sketchy privacy policies. And threats online are only growing stronger, especially when it comes to AI.
As an Undercover Geek, I’d like to think the biggest online threat is me — info, as you know, is my weapon. So, let’s break down what Worldcoin is, its ‘revolutionary’ approach to identification, and in doing so, help us both stay ahead of a future in technology.
What do you think of when you see the term Worldcoin? Another flash-in-the-pan cryptocurrency?
Worldcoin’s more than just a currency. It aims to topple the colonial Internet, increasing empowerment and equality of opportunity through a decentralized, cryptographic identification method called zero-knowledge proofs.
What does that mean exactly? Well, I’m a tech geek, not a wordsmith, but I’m guessing it isn’t poetry.
Zero, as in none; knowledge, as in knowing; and proofs, as in evidence. Worldcoin wants a way to prove identity without any knowledge of the user.
Altman plans to achieve this by placing Orbs in 35 cities around the world, devices that scan the populations’ irises to obtain unique biometric data. Yep, it seems a tad far-fetched. But when you consider how hard it will be to forge an eye scan, the company’s vision becomes clearer.
Worldcoin wants to improve the globe’s financial systems by making the Internet safer, more authentic, and more inclusive for everyone — particularly those living on the breadline. Instead of easily sellable login details or high-barrier credit systems, all that you’ll need to verify your identity and access Worldcoin’s financial system is a biometric scan.
To understand why Worldcoin thinks it’s worth the sci-fi aesthetic, though (seriously, look at the orbs), we need to break down blockchain technology first.
Despite popular belief, you can’t simply place a word in front of the term ‘coin’ and make it a valuable cryptocurrency. But what you can do is harness the power of blockchain to ensure a hyper-trusted, truly authenticated financial and identity system.
Let me explain.
Remember me using the term decentralized? Well, imagine a notebook, one that’s publicly available for the whole world to see. No single person owns this notebook. It is, in effect, the property of everyone alive. Because nobody owns it, nobody can manipulate it. And if someone tried, everyone would see.
This is the premise of blockchain. It’s a decentralized digital ledger that records transactions, financial or otherwise, across a shared and open network. This creates a transparent, peer-to-peer verified public system, which is a big bonus for identity privacy. The infrastructure holds so much potential that hundreds of well-known businesses are harnessing it today.
Visa uses blockchain technology, Amazon does, and even Walmart’s adopted it.
How does this relate to Worldcoin?
In order to create a truly trusted online identification system, authentic data is vital. The biometric scanners provide these. And when it comes to data verification, processing, and storage, this is where blockchain comes into play.
As Finxter writes, ‘‘Worldcoin uses “zero-knowledge proofs” so that your personal identity data is never sent to a central server once verified.’’
If Worldcoin’s mission is to ‘‘Increase individual empowerment and equality of opportunity on a global scale,’’ then a decrease in centralized control is essential — you can’t have one making rules for all and expect everyone to win (cough, banks, cough, governments).
So, less bots, more trust, less central power, more transparency. Sure, it would certainly be harder for me to be sneaky online, but for you, it’s an undoubtedly positive string of improvements.
A question remains — how deep does Worldcoin’s directive go? And what of the financial aspect when it comes to decentralization?
More than just a better Internet
8.5% of the world’s population lives in extreme poverty. That’s 682 million people. 1.85 billion people, 26% of the global population, lived on under $3.65 a day in 2022.
Poverty is a problem. In essence, it’s a financial problem. And with Worldcoin’s approach to online access and financial control, a solution to poverty-centered issues is real.
You may have heard the term Universal Basic Income (UBI). It’s the idea that eligible citizens are supplied with a regular, unconditional sum of money, regardless of their employment status, income, or wealth.
This is part of Altman’s desire to increase accessibility so more people can benefit from a Universal Basic Income. In an interview with Lex Fridman, Altman states, ‘‘I am a big believer in lift up the floor and don’t worry about the ceiling.’’ In other words, he wants standards to rise without worry of limitation.
So, Altman’s just a generous guy with a tonne of money who wants to give it away… right?
Well, Worldcoin wants to distribute 10 billion WLD tokens over 15 years with a relatively low tax to those who sign up. It’s giving members who might struggle through financial systems, built on bureaucracy and marginalizing eligibility, a chance at having money.
Hold on, is Worldcoin distributing the wealth at a rate it wants to, with a tax on users it sets? To throw the word decentralized at you once more — using a single entity currency through the Worldcoin app, and with one company’s technology, isn’t a decentralized approach.
One company holding the cards is centralized.
So, while ‘‘Worldcoin aims to provide universal access to the global economy no matter your country or background,’’ you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking… isn’t Worldcoin’s accessible identification just an easy way to sign up the poor?
Scans or scams?
I wouldn’t be much of an intel source if I didn’t give you the dirt. And Worldcoin’s got a few frowning onlookers. It’s seen national bans, a company hack, fears of third-party sell-offs, and, counter-intuitively, a predicted reduction in social freedom.
Imagine being banned by a nation — like the whole of Kenya, for example. Kenya’s government was the first to act in banning Worldcoin’s scanners and went as far as to launch a full-scale investigation into the company.
Mainly, issues around data procurement and preservation ethics are under attack. And not just by Kenya. French data protection regulator CNI has also launched an investigation. According to the group, ‘‘The legality of this [data] collection seems questionable, as do the conditions for preservation of biometric data.”
And with a major company hack occurring already, you can see why.
TechCrunch reports that password-stealing malware has been installed on the devices of multiple Worldcoin operators, those hired to administrate sign-ups. These sneaky operators would then keep the data themselves.
This is called irony. Worldcoin isn’t reducing data theft here — it’s creating new environments through which it can happen, and with data far more powerful than a password.
Naturally, the world is worried about third-party sell-offs as a result. With 2.2 million signing up already, and Worldcoin’s move to allow companies and governments to use the data… well, the social freedom point doesn’t need an explanation.
The people have spoken
With privacy and data handling concerns coupled with questions about the financial motivations of Worldcoin, it’s easy to see why many are voicing their fears.
A Reddit thread beginning with ‘‘Worldcoin is a dystopian nightmare’’ details ‘ponzinomics’, a reference to Ponzi schemes, in which returns are paid to earlier investors using the capital of newer investors, rather than generating legitimate profits. The post also speaks of the now 25% that Worldcoin and investors keep of all tokens distributed, as well as being skeptical about biometric data handling.
Joining the disbelievers, a Twitter user voiced his concerns over a statement made on Worldcoin’s discretion:
The list goes on, and you should see for yourself. But if you want the short answer… people are worried.
Worldcoin might have a strong valuation and be a great avenue for social change, but that doesn’t mean it knows where it’s going. Less bias in finance, a more transparent Internet, and a UBI-type arrangement are possible and appealing. But with so much in the way of controversy, with countries banning and investigating Worldcoin, and with the social sphere igniting with doubt, the company has a few obstacles to overcome before it does good, for good.
Concerned about your data? I don’t blame you. Follow this guide for details on removing your public info from the web.