Economic desperation drives 500,000 Argentinians to Sam Altman’s Worldcoin crypto project

A hot potato: Worldcoin, the iris-scanning crypto project from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, is finding plenty of success in Argentina, where 500,000 people have handed their biometric data over to the company. But with inflation in the Latin American nation at around 288% and Worldcoin offering $50 in crypto to everyone who looks into its Orbs, the figure comes as little surprise.

Skyrocketing inflation and high unemployment have sent half a million people in Argentina to Worldcoin’s Palantír-like Orbs. The company says the iris-scanning technology can establish an individual’s identity, at which point a digital World ID is created that can be used pseudonymously in a wide variety of everyday applications.

What attracts most people to Worldcoin is the $50 worth of free crypto tokens handed to them in exchange for their iris scans.

The Rest of the World reports that a network of intermediaries who earn a commission from every iris scan has convinced thousands in Argentina to sign up. Many are aware of the data-collection controversies surrounding Worldcoin – it has been temporarily banned in Spain, France, and Portugal; Kenya told it to cease operations; and the company stopped its Orb services in India and Brazil. But in places like the greater Buenos Aires area, which has a poverty rate of 45%, desperation outweighs privacy concerns. Argentina is in the middle of an economic crisis as President Javier Milei’s policies of eliminating social welfare plans and projects helping the country’s poor take effect.

Worldcoin Orbs were available in 25 countries last year. According to the website, they are now only found in Argentina, Chile, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Mexico, South Korea, Peru, and the US.

“When you earn money by bringing people in, people are the product,” Javier Smaldone, a software consultant and digital security expert, told Rest of World. “[Worldcoin] is taking away something much more valuable than cash.”

Lawmakers in Argentina are trying to do something about the situation. A draft bill regulating Worldcoin and its operator in the country has been proposed. There have been calls for similar legislation in Mexico, where Worldcoin recently announced a planned expansion, while South Korea has also launched an investigation.

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