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Spain Halts Worldcoin Data Operations Amid Privacy Concerns

The Spanish Agency for the Protection of Data (AEPD) has taken a bold step by ordering Worldcoin to halt its data collection and processing operations within Spain, effective from March 6. This temporary ban, lasting for three months, comes amidst the AEPD’s investigation into complaints regarding the project’s data handling practices. Worldcoin, a venture by Tools for Humanity founded by OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, aims to establish a globally inclusive identity and financial network. This initiative aspires to contribute towards a future where artificial intelligence could potentially fund universal basic income.

The AEPD’s concerns stem from allegations that Worldcoin’s operations in Spain have not allowed users to withdraw consent and have involved the collection of data from minors. According to a translation provided by Microsoft, the AEPD has called for an immediate cessation of collecting and processing special categories of personal data and demands the blocking of data already collected. The agency’s statement highlighted issues such as insufficient information provided to users, unauthorized data collection from minors, and the inability for users to retract consent.

Responding to these allegations, Worldcoin’s Data Protection Officer Jannick Preiwisch emphasized Worldcoin’s commitment to privacy and security, stating, “World ID was created to give people access, privacy, and protection online.” Preiwisch defended the technology as a privacy-preserving solution for confirming human identity in the digital age and expressed willingness to collaborate with regulators. Despite ongoing engagement with the Bavarian data protection authority (BayLDA), Preiwisch criticized the AEPD’s actions as circumventing EU law and spreading misleading information about Worldcoin’s technology.

This recent development in Spain follows closely after similar concerns were raised by Hong Kong’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD), which conducted an investigation into Worldcoin, including executing search warrants on its offices in January. At the heart of the controversy is Worldcoin’s use of biometric scanning devices known as “orbs” for creating a unique biometric profile based on users’ iris scans. This innovative yet contentious approach has raised questions about privacy and the ethical use of biometric data.

The AEPD’s intervention signals growing scrutiny of digital identity and financial services, especially those leveraging biometric data. As regulatory bodies worldwide grapple with these emerging technologies, the balance between innovation, privacy, and user consent remains a critical challenge for projects like Worldcoin and the broader tech industry.

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