The company when it was operating at the Vialia shopping centre in the city. SUR
Eye-scanning Worldcoin technology banned from Malaga shopping centre and the rest of Spain

Eye-scanning Worldcoin technology banned from Malaga shopping centre and the rest of Spain

The country's data protection authority has temporarily suspended the operation of the company that offered cryptocurrency payments in exchange for the biometric information

José A. González


Monday, 11 March 2024, 16:54


There has been a farewell to the queues at Vialia shopping centre in Malaga as the company which scanned your eyes at the retail complex in exchange for a digital ID and cryptocurrency has temporarily been banned from operating in the country.

Spain has banned Worldcoin for up to three months, the business that since the end of 2023 had been installed in Malaga city, as well as others cities, and is run by Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT. In recent months, salespeople hired by Worldcoin have been convincing customers in the shopping centre to scan the iris of their eye - which hold their unique biometric information - in exchange for a small financial reward in the form of cryptocurrencies.

But the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) ordered the "precautionary" suspension of Worldcoin, effective immediately. "The decision was communicated on 4 March and requires the immediate suspension of the collection of biometric data by the company," AEPD announced.

According to Spain's data protection watchdog, since last summer, Tools for Humanity Corporation has been photographing the irises of around 400,000 Spaniards, "mostly minors", in shopping centres across Spain in exchange for cryptocurrency called Worldcoin, which translates to about €70. "I want to send a message to all those young people who have approached for these coins, your data is worth more," said AEPD director Mar España. "We are talking about biometric data and they are particularly sensitive and that is why they are protected by the RGPD," he added.

The meteoric rise in the value of Worldcoin in euros and dollars has put the company in the spotlight in recent months. On 1 February, this cryptocurrency was trading at $2.35 and reached an all-time high ($8.90) at the end of the same month. "My son sold his iris for 100 euros in cryptocurrencies. He is 15 years old," said a mother in a post on X that went viral in just a few minutes.

According to Worldcoin's information, its databases have almost 3.5 million irises collected in more than a hundred countries. The watchdog has received a dozen complaints, SUR can confirm, as of mid-February. The matter is still being investigated.

The iris, along with the fingerprint, are unique and exclusive data belonging to each person. "They can identify a person and also reveal additional information such as illnesses and can be more or less intrusive depending on the type of data," Elena Gil, an outreach worker on the @TechAndLaw.lab channel on Instagram and TikTok, told SUR.

Spain joins France, Germany and the United Kingdom in banning the company. The data it has obtained from people in Spain has been blocked, and cannot be shared with third parties. If Worldcoin breaches this, it faces a fine of up to 20 million euros. Worldcoin is also under investigation by the European Data Protection Committee.

Worldcoin technology

Worldcoin has rolled out 2,000 orbs all over the world - the small silver balls are able to immediately scan the iris and identify the person. "It is the most reliable method," it said. "No personal information is collected and biometric data can be deleted at the user's request," it said on their website. The Spanish agency has not been able to confirm this. "The deletion of this data is not allowed and we are now investigating what contracts there are to third parties in case they have been sold," AEPD said.

How does it work?

The technology that powers these orbs, designed and manufactured in Germany, identifies the patterns of each part of the iris. This information is captured by high-resolution, infrared cameras and processed to extract patterns for "proof of humanity". Once the data is collected, it is "encoded"and the iris code is created.

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