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Worldcoin faces another ban in Europe, citing risk to children

Controversial crypto-biometric business Worldcoin has been almost completely kicked out of Europe after being hit again with a temporary ban, this time in Portugal. The order follows a three-month cease-processing order of the same type issued by the Spanish Data Protection Authority (DPA). earlier this month.

Portugal is one of only two European countries where WorldCoin is still operating its proprietary eye-scanning balls after the Spanish ban. This leaves Germany as the only market in Europe currently with access to biometric technology, as privacy watchdogs take urgent action to address local concerns.

Portugal’s data protection agency said it imposed a three-month ban on WorldCoin’s local operations on Tuesday after receiving complaints that WorldCoin scanned children’s eyeballs.

Other complaints mentioned in the press release announcing the suspension, noted to have been issued on Monday, also reflect the Spanish DPA’s concerns – including that users were provided with insufficient information about the processing of sensitive biometric data; that users were unable to delete their data or revoke it Consent to Worldcoin processing.

The business uses blockchain technology to store tokens from scanned biometrics, meaning the system is designed to retain personal data permanently and people cannot delete their information after the fact.

By contrast, EU data protection law gives people in the region a range of rights over their personal data, including the ability to correct, amend or delete data about them. There are therefore inherent legal conflicts with WorldCoin’s approach – even before you consider other problematic issues, such as the quasi-financial incentives it offers to encourage people to scan; the involvement of highly sensitive biometric data; and its construction and the overall goal of operating a “human” identity layer.

The controversial project is backed by OpenAI luminary Sam Altman, who has also fueled a boom in generative AI tools that make it harder to distinguish artificial (machine-generated) activity from human online activity in the first place. Next stop: Charging rent from every online human being on the planet?

Portuguese authorities CNPD said it took action after receiving “dozens” of complaints against Worldcoin last month.

It estimates that more than 300,000 people in Portugal have had their irises scanned with its proprietary Orbs in exchange for some Worldcoin (also a cryptocurrency designed by the company), noting that the number of locations offering eye scans has increased by almost one in six years. Times several months. It added that an influx of people trying to accept cryptocurrencies in exchange for eye scans led WorldCoin to launch a booking system for the scans in the market.

Regarding the risk of children’s data, the CNPD noted that Worldcoin’s orb operator did not conduct age verification, indicating that it did not take strong measures to prevent children from using the technology.

“Biometric data complies with the special data stipulated in the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] Therefore enjoy greater protection, but the risks of treatment are high,” it reads [in Portuguese, this is a machine translation]. “On the other hand, minors are particularly vulnerable and are subject to special protection under national and European law, as they may be less aware of the risks and consequences of processing their personal data and of their rights.”

Portuguese authorities gave Worldcoin 24 hours to comply with a local cease-processing order.

Given that the website no longer lists Portugal on the list of countries where eye scans can be booked (as mentioned above, Germany is the only remaining European country, along with Argentina, Chile, Japan, Singapore and the United States), it appears that it has Meet deadlines.

Coincidentally or not, Germany is an EU market for WorldCoin developer Tools for Humanity, which has a regional base there. Its co-founder Alex Blania is also German. Bavaria’s data protection agency, which is responsible for data protection oversight of the company and has been investigating Worldcoin since last year, has not yet taken any public intervention despite emergency intervention measures by its counterparts in southern Europe to protect citizens in their home markets. measure.

Worldcoin failed to obtain an injunction against the Spanish order earlier this month, although its appeal of the DPA action continues. It is unclear whether it plans to appeal Portugal’s order.

We contacted Tools for Humanity in response to the latest EU ban.

We have also contacted the Bavarian Data Protection Authority for an update on its investigation. As Tools for Humanity’s lead DPA, it investigates privacy and data protection complaints about companies under the One Stop Shop (OSS) mechanism of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

This structure means that the Bavarian DPA will produce a draft decision on its Worldcoin GDPR investigation for review by peer authorities. Other authorities will have the opportunity to object if they disagree with its findings. The statute requires majority support for decisions in cross-border cases, allowing weaker enforcement actions to be overruled where there is consensus that stronger measures are needed. This in turn could mitigate forum shopping risks inherent in the GDPR OSS regime, albeit over a longer period of time.

Both Spain and Portugal have used their powers under Article 66 of the GDPR to issue temporary local bans on Worldcoin, which also provides authorities with the tools to respond to urgent risks in the event that the lead agency has not yet acted and/or delayed.

Although neither man explicitly accused the Bavarian authorities of delaying for too long. But the fact that they intervened urgently speaks for itself.

“Given the current situation, in which the processing of biometric data of minors is unlawful and may violate other GDPR standards, the CNPD understands that the risks to citizens’ fundamental rights are high and warrants urgent intervention to prevent serious consequences.” Portuguese authorities pointed out and said they would continue to investigate WorldCoin’s activities there.

CNPD President Paula Meira Lourenço added in a statement: “The order temporarily restricting the collection of biometric data by the WorldCoin Foundation is an indispensable and reasonable measure at this time to obtain the necessary measures to defend the public Beneficial effects of interests. Safeguard fundamental rights, especially those of minors.”

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