Crypto project Worldcoin wants to give you coins in exchange for an eye scan

October 22, 2021, 6:57 PM UTC

The cryptocurrency project Worldcoin has high ambitions: to give a free share of cryptocurrency to every human on Earth.

But there’s a catch. Because the company wants to make sure people don’t claim their share more than once, or try to scam the system, they must submit to an iris scan when they request their Worldcoin.

“On a global scale, a biometric uniqueness check must confidently distinguish each person from every other person,” Worldcoin said on its website. “The information density of the iris is high enough to allow this, and no two irises are alike (even for identical twins). It also turns out that it is possible to capture most of this information with high-resolution imaging of the iris.”


The iris scans are enabled by a device called an “Orb,” about 30 of which have already been distributed by the company in countries such as Chile, Kenya, Indonesia, Sudan, and France for a pilot it is running. Orbs are handled by “Orb Operators” who will go out and try to persuade people to scan their eyes in exchange for some Worldcoin.

As an incentive, operators receive Worldcoin for every additional person they enroll. Potential coin holders also have an incentive to sign up quickly. The value of coins given out to an individual can range anywhere from $200 to $10 based on how early a person is to the project.

The number of coins a scan gets you will decrease over time, the company said on its website.

Universal basic iris

Although its founders imagine Worldcoin could someday enable universal basic income on a global scale, its critics say submitting nearly every human to an iris scan seems extremely dystopian. Biometric scans have been used before in various technologies, but they have almost always been met with concern.

When Apple first released Face ID, which unlocks your phone using a face scan, on the iPhone X in 2017, some users, including former Sen. Al Franken, voiced their concerns about privacy. Today, opting in to Face ID has become a normal behavior for many iPhone users.

Not everyone is on board though. Last month, the United Nations World Food Programme faced pushback from aid agencies for using eye scanning data to allocate food and supplies to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

For its part, Worldcoin has said it does not save any photos of a user’s eye. Instead, the company converts the scans into a code called an “IrisHash” that is stored in a database. That record can then be compared against future scans to determine if a user has already claimed their Worldcoin or not.

Reaching Orb-it

Despite privacy concerns, 130,000 people have already signed up for Worldcoin, with 60,000 of those sign-ups occurring in the past four weeks, according to the company.

Venture capital firms such as Andreessen Horowitz and Coinbase Ventures as well as prominent investors such as crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried and LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman have poured about $25 million into the project. The company is already valued at $1 billion, according to CoinDesk.

Worldcoin has a fixed supply of 10 billion tokens and is allocating 20% of them to fund production of the Orb scanners and initial development. The project is debuting publicly just as the broader cryptocurrency markets reach a fever pitch, with the price of Bitcoin hitting an all-time high of just under $67,000 this week.

Subscribe to Fortune Daily to get essential business stories delivered straight to your inbox each morning.