Sam Altman's Worldcoin project incentivizes a black market for biometric data taken from people in developing nations

"Show me the incentive and I will show you the outcome."

Sam Altman's Worldcoin project, a dystopian effort to use chrome orbs to scan the irises of people (often in developing nations) in exchange for vague promises of crypto compensation, is encountering even more difficulties. In April 2022, BuzzFeed News and MIT Technology Review both published in-depth reporting on some of the technical and ethical issues the project has run up against.

Now, the project is facing reports that people in China, who are not allowed to sign up legitimately, have been purchasing iris scans from individuals in Africa and Southeast Asia in order to circumvent the restriction. According to the news outlet BlockBeats, Chinese individuals have been engaging in "eyeball speculation": buying biometric data scanned en masse from villagers in Cambodia, Kenya, and elsewhere by people who then sell it for $30 or less, allowing the buyer to receive the associated Worldcoin payout (currently ~$20).

Worldcoin has said they are rolling out various measures to try to discourage this activity, including changing the in-person sign-up process. However, the project acknowledged that they have not figured out how to prevent this, writing: "Despite these precautions, it is important to acknowledge that they do not entirely safeguard against collusion or other attempts to bypass the one-person-one-proof principle. To address these challenges, innovative ideas in mechanism design and the attribution of social relationships will be necessary."