What is the cryptocurrency Worldcoin? And how does it work?


Worldcoin is an ambitious crypto startup led by Alex Blania. It plans to achieve widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies by giving away tokens. But there’s a catch: participants must be willing to have their eyes scanned upon registration.

Worldcoin says the scan is necessary to prove that users are human and to verify their identities without “infringing privacy”. Apparently, scanning your eyeballs isn’t intrusive at all.

The start-up has attracted major investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase Ventures and 1confirmation. But it has also raised concerns among an increasingly privacy-conscious public.

What is Worldcoin?

Two hands exchange crypto currency

Worldcoin aims to be the first truly global cryptocurrency with the goal of widespread crypto adoption. Most notably and somewhat controversially, Worldcoin is introducing a new system called Proof-of-Personhood. This consists of scanning your eyes to validate your identity and avoid creating multiple accounts.

The crypto has not yet been officially launched and a pre-launch pilot is underway to get more and more people to sign up. At present, Worldcoin claims to have deployed more than 25 of its operators around the world, in countries such as France, Indonesia, Sudan and Chile. Worldcoin expects to officially launch later in 2022.

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From a technical standpoint, Worldcoin will use a layer-2 network and run on top of Ethereum’s base layer. It uses Optimistic Rollups to handle scalability. The underlying token uses Ethereum’s ERC-20 standard. This allows compatibility with many existing tools and services.

Alex Blania leads Worldcoin, the company he co-founded with Sam Altman and Max Novendstern. They created the crypto that envisioned “a world where everyone around the world, no matter who they are, can participate in the growing digital economy and benefit from decentralized, collective ownership”.

To achieve this, they will get the currency in the hands of as many people as possible. But which currency? A new cryptocurrency: Worldcoin.

How does Worldcoin work?

An extreme close-up of a human iris

To ensure wide adoption, Worldcoin aims to register 2 billion users before launch. How will it do that? By rewarding all those users with Worldcoin, encouraging more people to join.

But then there is the problem of how to distribute the funds fairly. It is almost certain that individual people will try to register multiple times to claim multiple rewards. This is where Proof-of-Personhood comes in, to validate users’ identities.

The end goal is basically the same as with all other cryptocurrencies, achieving widespread adoption. However, it is the way Worldcoin plans to get there that sets it apart from other crypto startups, for the better or the worse.

An inclusive subscription

A globe with a map of Africa with part of Europe

According to a Bloomberg report, Altman is “very interested in things like universal basic income and what’s going to happen to the global redistribution of wealth and how we can do it better.” On its site, Worldcoin claims that it is the first step in getting as many people as possible to use the same currency. They hope that everyone around the world can enjoy a decentralized digital economy and collective ownership.

This is something that cryptocurrencies are trying to achieve, but have not succeeded. Only 3% of the world’s population has ever used cryptocurrencies. About 30%, mostly living in developing countries, do not use a bank account.

To this end, Worldcoin wanted to distribute 80% of its total supply among the world’s population. It plans to do this by giving crypto to as many new “unique users” as possible as an incentive to join, with a special focus on developing countries. The company has already deployed more than 25 operators around the world to issue Worldcoin.

An intrusive strategy

A woman standing in front of a red background with a fingerprint projected on it

The most notable – even controversial – aspect of Worldcoin is the user registration process. To register with the system and get your free share of Worldcoin, you need to have your eyes scanned to prove that you are a “unique person”, in Worldcoin’s words.

This process, Worldcoin claims, is necessary to verify the uniqueness of an account. It ensures that each person can register in the system and claim their reward once so that the distribution of the Worldcoin supply is even.

Users who wish to register with the system and claim their free share of Worldcoin must first contact an “Orb operator”. These people carry an Orb, a spherical custom-made device that scans people’s eyes.

This Orb takes a high-res photo of your eyes and distills the biometric information from your iris into what Worldcoin calls an IrisHash. Worldcoin then stores this IrisHash in a database and uses it to ensure human uniqueness. Meanwhile, it erases all other data, including the original image of your iris.

Worldcoin says it uses the biometric information of people’s irises for its Proof-of-Personhood to prove uniqueness in the least intrusive way. It aims to secure the currency without requiring users to hand in too much of their personal information.

People within the crypto community, including security and privacy advocates, have criticized Worldcoin’s protocol. But we also need to ask ourselves how the public will feel if their iris biometric information is classified and stored.

Major Investors

Several bills of American paper money with metal Bitcoin coins resting on them.

Despite this criticism, Worldcoin has raised more than $25 million from Silicon Valley tech and crypto investors. These include Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase Ventures, 1confirmation, Blockchange, Day One Ventures, and CoinFund. The coin has also attracted private investors such as Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, and Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX. Worldcoin currently has a unicorn valuation of $1 billion.

An inclusive plan versus an intrusive strategy

Worldcoin has its sights set on reaching 2 billion users before launching later in 2022. Achieving widespread adoption is not an easy task for new tech companies, but Worldcoin has set its sights on a clear goal and laid out a path to follow.

Worldcoin’s goal is ambitious, one that has attracted many very large, very important investors. But it has failed to do so without being criticized. All we have yet to learn is whether people are really willing to let an Orb scan their eyes and store the biometric data of their iris.

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