Hong Kong authorities investigating Worldcoin over data privacy concerns

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) in Hong Kong has initiated an investigation into Worldcoin over data privacy concerns related to its collection of biometric data, according to a Jan. 31 press release.

The PCPD said it executed court warrants to enter six Worldcoin premises on Jan. 31 in Yau Ma Tei, Kwun Tong, Wan Chai, Cyperport, Central, and Causeway Bay.

Hong Kong raids

According to the PCPD, the investigation focuses on the potential misuse of personal data, particularly the biometric data collected by Worldcoin in exchange for cryptocurrency tokens. The regulator said there are significant risks in collecting such sensitive data, and there are concerns that Worldcoin is in “contravention” of regulatory requirements related to data collection and storage.

The PCPD’s action aims to determine whether Worldcoin data collection practices comply with the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO). The operation involved the collection of documents and information from Worldcoin to review its data collection and processing methods.

The watchdog has advised the public to consider the necessity, purpose, and retention period of biometric data collection before participating in such activities. The regulator emphasized the sensitivity of biometric data, given its unique and unalterable nature.

The PDPO mandates that organizations collect personal data for lawful purposes and secure the data against unauthorized or accidental access and use. It also restricts using personal data for new purposes without explicit consent.

The PCPD also requested that the public submit any complaints and information regarding Worldcoin’s data practices.

Worldcoin’s regulatory woes

The Worldcoin project is undergoing similar investigations in several countries due to privacy concerns over collecting biometric data, notably iris scans, for digital identity verification and cryptocurrency distribution.

The Bavarian State Office for Data Protection Supervision in Germany initiated its investigation in 2022, driven by concerns about the scale of sensitive biometric data processing. The probe focuses on the legality of Worldcoin’s practices under the EU’s strict data protection regulations, particularly scrutinizing issues of user consent and the clarity of information provided to users about their data usage.

Similarly, the Argentine Agency for Access to Public Information (AAIP) launched an investigation into the project after a surge in local interest. The AAIP is examining Worldcoin’s adherence to local data protection laws, specifically focusing on how the company safeguards the privacy of its users in Argentina. This includes reviewing the security measures Worldcoin employs to protect the collected biometric data.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government has suspended Worldcoin’s operations in the country following an investigation deemed its activities to be “espionage.”The project has been working with the authorities to resolve the situation.

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