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Worldcoin Ordered to Halt Operations in Hong Kong After Privacy Law Violation

Hong Kong’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) has concluded that the Worldcoin project violated the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance (PDPO) in Hong Kong.

On May 22, Privacy Commissioner Ada Chung Lai-ling issued an enforcement notice to Worldcoin, ordering an immediate halt to all operations in Hong Kong involving the scanning and collecting of iris and facial images using iris scanning devices.

The PCPD launched its investigation into Worldcoin in January 2024 to assess whether its identity verification methods posed significant risks to personal data privacy and contravened the PDPO.

Between December 2023 and January 2024, the PCPD conducted ten covert visits to six premises involved in the Worldcoin project.

The PCPD found that collecting face images was unnecessary for verifying the humanness of participants since operators could perform this verification in person at the locations.

Thus, the collection of face images was deemed an unnecessary step.

Moreover, the PCPD highlighted that Worldcoin failed to provide adequate information, preventing participants from making informed decisions and giving genuine consent.

The privacy notice was not available in Chinese, leaving non-English speaking participants unaware of the project’s policies, practices, terms, and conditions.

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The PCPD stated:

“[…] the iris scanning device operators at the operating locations also did not offer any explanation or confirmed the participants’ understanding of the aforesaid documents.

They also did not inform the participants the possible risks pertaining to their disclosure of biometric data, nor answered their questions.”

The PCPD determined that under these conditions, the collection of face and iris images was unfair and unlawful, violating data protection principles.

Furthermore, Worldcoin’s retention of sensitive biometric data for up to 10 years solely for AI model training, including face and iris images, was deemed unjustified.

Worldcoin confirmed that 8,302 individuals had their faces and irises scanned for verification during its operation in Hong Kong.

The project, announced in 2021, saw over two million people sign up before its official launch in July 2023.

Worldcoin has faced regulatory scrutiny in many countries over privacy concerns, leading to the suspension of services in Kenya and the halting of iris scans in India.

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