Worldcoin – a crypto project by OpenAI CEO Sam Altman – has greatly polarized the Web3 community. At its core, Worldcoin uses Proof-of-Personhood (PoP), which is a mechanism that establishes an individual’s humanness and uniqueness. Proof-of-Personhood has never been more important, especially in the age of surveillance when identity – one of our most fundamental human rights – is under threat.
However, experts in the digital asset industry believe Worldcoin is not the way to achieve it.
Spotlight on Proof-of-Personhood
The native cryptocurrency of the ‘Tools for Humanity’ project was launched last month. The aim is to create “the world’s largest, most inclusive identity and financial public utility.” The privacy advocates in the digital assets industry are not impressed.
In fact, certain observers are bullish on Proof-of-Personhood and view that there are many paths to achieving the same, and even though none of them are perfect, Worldcoin is still not the way to go about it.
Blockchain expert and CEO of web3 infrastructure firm Toniq Labs, Bob Bodily, for one, said there are numerous safer means for proving you are human, making this process obsolete. While speaking exclusively with CryptoPotato, the exec highlighted the many shortcomings of the Worldcoin verification model, including high centralization since users can only be validated using official hardware built by Worldcoin, thereby limiting accessibility.
“How realistic is it for everyone in the world to get to one of these devices? There are currently only a few hundred, and even if that number rises to thousands, this is still far below what would be needed for global adoption.”
He also highlighted the use of Zero-Knowledge technology to ensure nobody can unencrypt user data but also ponders over the fact that how much can it be trusted when it comes from a centralized source.
“Any flaw in such a high-stakes system could lead to catastrophic problems for users if the protocol is compromised in any way.”
Another point of contention is the need to manufacture and disseminate the “Orbs” globally, which according to the Toniq CEO, “presents a scalability challenge and a potential security risk posed by malicious actors engaging in activities such as 3D printing replicated irises and hacking users’ phones to illicitly acquire their keys.”
While others believe there’s no foolproof way to eliminate fake identities and fraud, Worldcoin’s approach to leverage biometrics isn’t new, rather, very similar to how existing companies like Apple or Google already do identity verification today, using on-device biometrics, according to Leonard Tan, Cofounder and CTO, Web3Auth.
Besides centralization and privacy aspects, the chief exec of the wallet infrastructure platform believes that Worldcoin is “still a very good start,” citing the importance of biometric scans to prevent bad actors across various fields. Tan also said the crypto project being backed by Sam Altman, helps.
While Tan expressed his optimism about the project, not many Web3 observers share the same sentiment.
Where Does Worldcoin Fall Apart?
Fakhul Miah, Elastos Global Head of Growth, highlighted the lack of transparency on how the collected data will be utilized or who will be granted access to it, which makes it difficult to assess the potential privacy risks of the project.
While speaking with CryptoPotato, he took a jibe at the founder of OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, which is the most successful generative AI at the moment, “but is now developing an intrusive system for countering the very problem he is helping to perpetuate.”
Echoing a similar stance, XYO co-founder Arie Trouw said the whole point of the Proof-of-Personhood structure is to keep personal details private, and this is where Worldcoin’s implementation falls apart. The requirement to hand over incredibly private personal information to the company and rely on Worldcoin alone for identity verification is highly problematic. The exec added,
“Any implementation that involves a company gathering huge amounts of personal data is an oxymoron in my eyes – it misses the point of keeping this data out of unelected centralized entities’ hands. I don’t think this project grants personal sovereignty so much as it hands it over to Worldcoin.”
Instead, Trouw believes we should rely on the infrastructure that we already trust – infrastructure we vote on with legitimacy derived from the consent of the governed.
Ideal PoP System
It is still important to understand that biometrics serve as a powerful form of confirming identity, but the first step towards achieving an ideal Proof-of-Personhood system is to eliminate the central entity, like a business or government, which can build “back doors” into these networks to potentially abuse them.
Brendan Playford – co-founder of Masa, a platform for intelligent growth and analytics infrastructure in Web3 – is of the opinion that an ideal system would identify the authenticity of a user through a range of on-chain and off-chain credentials, affiliations, behaviors, and reputation, which we call identifiers.