Worldcoin controversy: two sides of the ‘coin’

Mariblock hosted a space on X where it entertained arguments for and against the digital ID company, Worldcoin. Here are some key takeaways from the space.

Worldcoin controversy: two sides of the ‘coin’
Design by Ifeoluwa Awowoye

Worldcoin, a global digital ID company, launched to issue World IDs — blockchain-based biometric digital IDs — to every human. Worldcoin went live in several cities worldwide, Nairobi and Kampala being the only African cities. However, the project has been trailed by questions concerning security and privacy and the elements of financial inducement in its approach.

Worldcoin’s popularity in Kenya surged rapidly following its launch, propelling its mobile app to ascend the ranks of download charts in a mere week. As days progressed, queues grew as Kenyan citizens eagerly registered for digital IDs, drawn by a 25 Worldcoin token reward worth $56. After multiple advisories to citizens to understand the handling of their data, Kenya’s government suspended Worldcoin.

Mariblock hosted an X space with the president of the Blockchain Association of Kenya, Michael Kimani, and Abraham Augustine, a senior reporter at TechCabal, to discuss the controversies surrounding Worldcoin.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

Digital ID systems like Worldcoin can help financial inclusion

Kimani believes that the Worldcoin project is the next exciting development in Web3, promising to bridge Africa’s financial inclusion divide. He claims that limited African digital identification systems hinder citizens from accessing global financial services across national boundaries. Kimani says that Worldcoin could offer a solution to this predicament.

He said:

“The conversation about identity is about identity beyond borders. African users being online and whenever they need to sign up for a financial service, they are requested [to provide] information they may not particularly have... This is the fundamental problem why Africans are not able to access financial services at a global level.

“For me, the Worldcoin project is trying to address this [financial inclusion] gap.”

Worldcoin’s goals are ‘aspirational’

In the flip of the coin, Augustine held more reserved views and shared none of Kimani’s optimism about the project. He said that Worldcoin’s aim to be the ID system for the world’s population is aspirational at best and would require the trust of the majority, which it currently does not have. For it to be successful, Worldcoin needs to incorporate the governments of most countries in the world, a situation Augustine believes is impossible.

Augustine said:

“There is a lot of aspiration here and the project is simply asking for a lot of trust from the people. Secondly, for Worldcoin to succeed, it has to be something that all governments are comfortable with... and that’s not where we are today.”

Digital ID does not guarantee financial inclusion

Augustine also argued that financial inclusion is not a strong enough reason to harvest biometric information in huge numbers. In his opinion, getting more people to register their biometrics on the platform does not signify a financially inclusive economy.

“Generally speaking, I think a focus on just getting people to create [digital] accounts is not a good way of measuring whether we are building strong economies or not or whether we are serving people financially.”

He added:

“In Nigeria, we have had several digital ID programs by the government and we still have less than 45% of access-type financial inclusion. It is clear that the more digital IDs you have does not necessarily mean you have a more financially included population by access. The more financially included people you have in terms of access does not necessarily mean you have a better economy.”

The trust issues can be resolved

While Kimani agreed that there are questions of trust around Worldcoin, he held the opinion that such issues do not need to be fatal. In resolving them, he proposed an independent and end-to-end audit to inspect the system’s design and security.

“My recommendation has always been that … as a community, we need to come up with an audit mechanism that is end-to-end so that we can all speak the same language.”

He added:

“There is a big conversation to be had around who do we trust with this audit, what type of audit would we require... who are these people who will come up with the audit system. I think that is how communities and systems of governance come together to agree on controversial issues.”

Can governments be trusted?

Kimani raised points on trusting the government to effectively manage audit processes around the Worldcoin project and other budding technological innovations in the future. He concluded that most governments cannot be trusted because they do not understand the technology, citing the conflicting responses of Kenyan authorities to the Worldcoin situation.

“Is the government the entity that should be trusted to come up with an audit? [Considering] the situation that the Kenyan government is in right now, it is clear that the government is also confused... and they are not speaking the same language, or they do not have a good grasp of the issue.”

On the other hand, Augustine leaned more towards a government-controlled response because he believes they are easier to hold accountable. He said:

“My reason for saying that I am more comfortable with the government ... is that you can hold governments to account generally.”