Last week, Worldcoin and its native digital asset, WLD, went live to the general public.
So far, it has onboarded over 2.1 million verified individuals across 120 countries through its World ID system.
The project is the brainchild of Sam Altman, Alex Blania and Max Novendstern. The former is the most well-known amongst the trio, being the CEO of OpenAI, which has taken the world by storm since the launch of ChatGPT, amongst other artificial general intelligence (AGI) products.
The protocol consists of three major components:
Worldcoin refers to this idea as “privacy preserving (sic) proof of personhood”.
– Worldcoin token (WLD) — an ERC-20 token, i.e. one that is run on Ethereum — an asset that will (pending regulations) be freely distributed to people who have a World ID, as verified through their orbs, which are their biometric imaging devices.
As a symbolic/fitting gesture, Worldcoin designed these orbs to tilt at 23.5* degrees, similar to Earth.
– World App uses both Worldcoin and Ethereum systems to approve an individual’s Proof-of-Personhood (PoP) with their World ID, send money ‘for free’, access related grants and more.
What’s the purpose of Worldcoin?
According to its co-founder letter:
If successful, we believe Worldcoin could drastically increase economic opportunity, scale a reliable solution for distinguishing humans from AI online while preserving privacy, enable global democratic processes, and eventually show a potential path to AI-funded UBI.
For those unfamiliar with this acronym, it stands for Universal Basic Income.
This has some good intentions, especially to find ways correctly identify what content is posted by bots versus humans. The dominance of malicious bots (as opposed to good bots) must be curtailed somehow. Check out ColdFusion’s video about the ‘Dead Internet Theory’ for an excellent overview.
Anyhow, I have reservations about Worldcoin’s approach and believe there are other practical ways for many people to generate passive income with digital assets without the need to scan their irises and participate in this program. I will expand on alternatives later.
Privacy features on Worldcoin
As per its whitepaper, some of the key privacy features that the entity will implement into their World ID system include:
– As per biometric data, Worldcoin provides this reassurance to the general public:
Your biometric data is first processed locally on the Orb and then permanently deleted. The only data that remains is your IrisCode. This IrisCode is a set of numbers generated by the Orb and is not linked to your wallet or any of your personal information.
Just like fingerprints, no two iris patterns are the same. Hence, it makes sense in the 21st Century to use this form of personal ID in a quick and efficient matter through these orbs.
Worldcoin also makes this claim about the biometric data collected from their devices:
Biometric data never leaves the Orb. Once you’ve signed up, it’s permanently deleted.
As per the second phrase, “once you’ve signed up”, I assume this means seconds after the signup has been completed? Or could this be several minutes, hours, days, or months later?
What window of opportunity exists for a hacker to remotely access an orb between a person having their biometric data processed by it and their information being permanently deleted?
Also, what happens if the unique numerical ID code is stolen or corrupted somehow?
Let’s hope that no mass-scale hacks of massive amounts of World IDs occur, as have occurred with various companies.
I know I am playing devil’s advocate here and perhaps being alarmist, but Worldcoin’s proposal is still novel, and it will take years to prove to the general public that it can deliver on its main objectives.
Something else we need to bear in mind – not just for Worldcoin, but for data in general – is that even if the information were to be encrypted, this is still appealing to hackers as they could steal it now, then aim to decrypt it later with quantum computing.
I can’t help but be a contrarian here, especially by bringing up quantum computing and encryption.
With ongoing growth in quantum-technology investing and with companies such as IBM, Nvidia, Amazon and Alphabet (Google) making strides in this space, various protocols will (sooner or later) need to incorporate post-quantum cryptography into their systems to deal with any hackers down the line once QC becomes mainstream.
I’ll start with some shortcomings outlined by Vitalik Buterin, an Ethereum co-founder still actively involved in the leading smart-contracts platform.
Firstly, he points out the logistical and cost issues surrounding the distribution of orbs worldwide.
In his eyes, there is a more practical solution, at least when it comes to accessibility and, thus, affordability.
Here is a direct quote from a recent blog, ‘What do I think about biometric proof of personhood?’ published on his official website.
“But while there are billions of smartphones, there are only a few hundred Orbs. Even with much higher-scale distributed manufacturing, it would be hard to get to a world where there’s an Orb within five kilometers of everyone.”
Adding to this, it would be unfeasible in some cases – particularly in rural and some regional areas – to have orbs within a 5km radius, whereas smartphones are ubiquitous.
Buterin notes that Proof of Humanity – a similar project working on their own “self-sovereign digital identity” – in collaboration with Kleros, provides much better accessibility to people wanting to join their network, by uploading a video through their smartphone and depositing ETH to a wallet connected to the PoH app. If you
This bypasses the need to find an orb and establish a World ID in person. At least the silver lining to this is that it would drag people out of their house, basement or dungeon and get them to speak to a human in person, though I digress…
Furthermore, there is the issue with the vast resources required to manufacture these orbs, pack and transport them, operate and maintain them, followed by the e-waste generated towards the end of their life.
Alternatives to relying on WLD or a similar (proposed) UBI
What do you do if you don’t want to get involved in this scheme, at least not yet?
For starters, anyone reading this now should have accumulated some crypto, including Bitcoin and a few other major assets such as Ethereum (ETH), XRP, Polygon (MATIC) and Cardano (ADA), to name a few.
After accounting for inflation rates, several major crypto assets have convenient staking options and offer modest to generous staking yields.
For several years, various proof-of-stake assets have generated reliable income (in the form of staking rewards) for those who use their crypto to contribute to the network. See Staking Rewards for further details.
How does staking relate to this? It is another practical form of passive income that could help many people supplement their income in an increasingly automated world.
Moreover, this is just one of many ways you can begin building your crypto (let alone overall investment) portfolio to avoid relying on a UBI, assuming that this asset class erupts in popularity and various cryptos significantly increase in price.
Having said this, I cannot speak for everyone. I reckon this could benefit people in regions with limited economic opportunities – across the developed and developing world – and might help people on the cusp of, or currently facing, extreme or relative poverty.
Despite this, anyone participating in this should proceed with caution. Ask yourself what price you are willing to put on your biometric data and what practical choices you have (or could aspire to have) that would avoid the need to go through with this scheme.
I prefer to let other people be the proverbial guinea pig and see how this all pans out.
From first impressions, all of this sounds like a dystopian concept you’d find in a Black Mirror episode.
Despite major concerns about privacy – not just from me, but many others that remain highly sceptical about this whole system – I know that people will be readily willing to get involved in this project in exchange for ongoing digital-currency payments, something akin to a UBI.
This short video from Sam Altman’s Twitter account shows how many people are willing to queue for extended periods just to sign up and get their hands on some WLD; the herd mentality is alive and well.
Tech behemoths such as Facebook (Meta), Google, Apple and others have profited from people allowing them to collect their users’ data, not to mention people forking out good money to buy their devices over the years.
Note the above wording: We have permitted them to use our data per their respective privacy policies.
We have allowed various societal trends to proliferate either due to apathy or being a conformist, i.e., a sheep amongst the flock, just for the sake of “fitting in”.
So whether or not you choose to have your irises scanned by one of these orbs should be up to you. Before proceeding, make sure you understand how your information will be used as per its privacy notice (I am repeating this to reinforce this important point).
Will I be participating in Worldcoin? I don’t plan to, and I will remain sceptical for several years to see how this all pans out.
This is just my opinion and nothing specifically directed towards Worldcoin. I hold the same view with various social trends and aspects of technology that I choose not to participate in, although I digress.
What’s my view of the project? When I break down its different components, it varies between sceptical and neutral. One potential positive is using proof of personhood to avoid unscrupulous people rorting the system.
Many people in the crypto community are either sceptical or against this project as well, so I am not the only one who isn’t too thrilled about Worldcoin.
WorldCoin is coming… 👇
— Altcoin Daily (@AltcoinDailyio) July 30, 2023
Then again, perhaps I am unfairly critiquing Worldcoin’s proposals; that’s for you to decide.
In a related case study, biometric authentication has also been used in India to reduce Goods and Services Tax (GST) fraud. It is part of the Aadhaar ID verification system that it has recently implemented.
To put things into perspective, could Worldcoin do a better job than most governments offering a decentralised form of digital ID? Absolutely. Various centralised personal ID systems controlled by governments have also been hacked, so I am not trying to defend the status quo.
I would only participate in this scheme without data custody if I were ever constrained to use one of their orbs.
Despite multiple privacy assurances, I have already relinquished enough of my data in the past, and I am not willing to disseminate more of this info in the future.
Above all, would I ever spend hours queuing for this, let alone most things? F#&k no. This just baffles me.
A key takeaway is that Worldcoin (WLD) will not replace Bitcoin (BTC), as the latter remains one of the most decentralised blockchain protocols in the world.
Just because both use blockchain technology does not mean these protocols should be lumped together as many laypeople will probably do, not to mention interpreting WLD as an alternative to BTC.
No, just no.
Moreover, the organisation is required to comply with any related laws as per its privacy notice. Thus, it is not immune to sanctions, unlike Bitcoin.
In conclusion, sooner or later, there will be a form of blockchain-based UBI spreading across the world in the coming years, as there will be plenty of demand for it, despite privacy concerns. Whether it is Worldcoin, Proof of Humanity, or another project remains to be seen.
On a scale of 1 – 10, how willing would you be to establish a World ID and use one of these orbs? I look forward to your response and general feedback below.
Thanks for reading!
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Ways to stay in the loop with Worldcoin (WLD)
*These appear to be the official Worldcoin channels for the respective social-media platforms but double-check that this is the case before interacting with anyone from these pages.
None of this is financial advice; I am not a financial advisor. You are solely responsible for crypto investments, let alone in any asset class.
This is a combination of information and opinions from either myself or anyone mentioned here. The content provided here is for educational and/or entertainment purposes only.
Please do your research before investing in any crypto assets, staking, NFTs and other product affiliated with this space.
For transparency, BTC and ETH (combined) account for about 45% of my crypto portfolio at the time of writing.