Sam Altman’s Worldcoin Gets Kicked Out of Spain

The country’s data protection watchdog took offense at the company’s eyeball-scanning data operations.

Photo of Worldcoin orb device
Photo via Worldcoin Media Center

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

Spanish regulators have thrust their blade into the shoulder of Sam Altman’s pet crypto project.

Spain’s data watchdog told Altman’s cryptocurrency startup Worldcoin, which requires new sign-ups to have their eyeballs scanned by a device coyly named an “Orb,” it has 72 hours to vamoose, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.

A New Black Eye 

Worldcoin launched its cryptocurrency last July, with Altman’s stated grand aim of providing a universal basic income. On Worldcoin’s website, you can locate your nearest “Orb operator” — essentially, gig-economy workers who get sent an Orb and help scan people’s irises who want to sign up. The logic is clearly to have a physical identity tied to each user while being as creepy as possible. To encourage takeup, Worldcoin offered free crypto tokens with each signup.

Worldcoin’s website says it has 29 Orb locations in Spain, but they don’t look to be sticking around for much longer:

  • Spain’s data protection watchdog AEPD ordered Worldcoin to immediately stop scanning eyeballs and to stop using any eyeball-data it has already collected.
  • AEPD director Mar España Martí told the FT the agency was particularly concerned that the startup might be scanning the eyeballs of minors. She added that there were worries that the company had not complied with the country’s laws on how to manage biometric data in a way that users know what’s being done with it, and can request it be erased.

“I want to send a message to young people,” España Martí told the FT. “I understand that it can be very tempting to get €70 or €80 that sorts you out for the weekend […] giving away personal data in exchange for these derisory amounts of money is a short, medium and long-term risk.”

Kenya Believe It: Spain isn’t the first country to take action against Worldcoin. Kenya shut it down last August. Thousands of Kenyans signed up for the currency, but the country’s Communications Authority said it was concerned about the use of biometric data, especially since Worldcoin was effectively buying it off people. Now it looks like Kenya’s approach could spread, as España Martí told the FT she thinks there should be “coordinated action” by EU countries.