Kenyans lead in Worldcoin subscription, official reveals

Wednesday, August 30th, 2023 00:01 | By
A user registers for Worldcoin. PHOTO/(@ArapRono_)/X

Kenya leads in the number of subscribers to the Worldcoin cryptocurrency project out of 34 countries where the company is operating, MPs heard yesterday.

The Office of the Director of Computer and Cyber Crime Coordination told a parliamentary committee that the American firm entered the country without following due process, recruited agents, and deployed them to  30 stations in Nairobi to collect iris data for transmission.

When he appeared before the National Assembly’s ad hoc committee probing the company’s operations, National Computer and Cyber Crimes Co-ordination Committee’s (NC4) Head of Cybersecurity, Policy and Standards David Njoga said the situation in the country was alarming and posed a security threat.

“The rate which world coin was being adopted just like other cyrptocurrencies is not only disturbing but alarming, because 350,000 people in one week is quite high, contributing 25 per cent of their customers,” said Njoga.

Njoga contradicted Data Protection Commissioner Immaculate Kassait who had said the data collected was safely stored in the country. He said the data was stored by Amazon Web Services in the United States.

Warehoused in US

Njoga said Worldcoin camouflaged itself as a research entity before escalating its activities to data processing.

“This exposed gullible Kenyans who were offering themselves just because of the small stipend on offer,” Njoga told the committee chaired by Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo.

He added: “A week after the launch of Worldcoin cryptocurrency on 22nd of July, the company announced that they had registered over 350,000 Kenyans and in terms of the numbers of data registered globally. Kenyans amounted to around 25 per cent which is something of concern.”

During the launch, the company which is represented in the country by Wangechi Maina and Rael Mwende, showed  the data would be warehoused in Amazon Web Services in the United States which in itself is an illegality as it breaches data sovereignty.

“From interviews we conducted, we established the data was transferred to the Amazon servers based in the US. They had indicated the data is secure but that needs deeper investigations,” Njoga told MPs.

The government suspended Worldcoin operations in the country on August 2 over security concerns.

The company had indicated that it targeted to register  eight billion people in the cryptocurrency platform that aims to provide a universal global economy by authenticating individuals using retina/iris scans.

“Many data collecting companies have been competing to win people to attain their objectives but in the process operate outside the parameters of the law,” explained the expert.

 Maina and Mwende work for firms listed as Platinum De Plus Limited, EXP Kenya and Sense Marketing.

Banned in France

 The NC4 director told MPs that the firm had since November 2022 recruited 11 companies who were assigned responsibilities of hiring casual agents who were trained to assist Kenyans in downloading the Worldcoin App and then have the iris captured.

He added that through user verification of the iris, they may have had access to control of sensitive data whose safety is  not guaranteed.

He said NC4 had since established that the firm was operating in the country illegally.

“They don’t have a physical office. I think they need to be investigated for doing what they were doing without necessary approvals,” Njoga said.

Concerns over the operations of Worldcoin have been raised in the US .  It has been banned in France, India, Germany, and the UK among others.

Worldcoin offered those who signed up 25 free tokens worth about Sh7,000, drawing thousands of people to multiple sign-up points in the capital Nairobi.

MPs accused the agency of failing in its mandate and in the process allowing Worldcoin to operate in the country.

“We should be expecting proper answers to the questions that we ask. We need to amend the cyber crimes act and put in place a proper committee that has teeth to bite,” said Tetu MP Geoffrey Wandeto.

“What is your role in registering and operationalisation of companies like Worldcoin?” Posed Dagoreti South MP John Kiarie.

In defence, Njoga said his office had its hands tied since the authority to licence lies with other state agencies.

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