The Kenyan government has ordered the Worldcoin cryptocurrency project to stop signing up new users, citing data privacy concerns.
Worldcoin, founded by US tech entrepreneur Sam Altman, offers free crypto tokens to those who agree to have their eyeballs scanned. Thousands of Kenyans had been queuing up at registration centres this week to get the currency, worth about $49 (£39).
The Ministry of Interior has launched an investigation into Worldcoin and called on security services and data protection agencies to ascertain its authenticity and legality.
The government warned residents to be wary of giving their information to private companies, citing questions such as how the biometric data was stored, offering money in exchange for data, and having so much data in the hands of a private firm.
At one of the pop-up registration centres in the capital, Nairobi, hundreds had been lining up for the registration, but many were locked out of the process on Wednesday after the large crowd was termed a “security risk”.
Webster Musa told the BBC: “I’ve been coming here almost three days to line up and register. I want to register because I’m jobless and I’m broke, that’s why I’m here.”
Dickson Muli added: “I came here yesterday. I waited until my phone died. So I came back today but I’ve missed the registration again. I like Worldcoin because of the money. I’m not worried about the data being taken. As long as the money comes.”
Worldcoin says it can’t say how many people have had their eyeballs scanned in Kenya. It claims to be creating a new world “identity and financial network” that will establish universal access to the global economy regardless of country or background.
Mr Altman, who founded Open AI which built chat bot ChatGPT, hopes the initiative will help verify whether someone is a human or a robot. He also says it could lead to everyone being paid a universal basic income, though