The grants are supposed to give developers a “focus on building resilient technology and more equitable systems.”
The Worldcoin Foundation, a non-profit that supports the development of the Worldcoin protocol, announced on Wednesday a $5 million community grants program called “Wave0.”
The grants are supposed to give developers a “focus on building resilient technology and more equitable systems” on Worldcoin, according to a draft press release seen by CoinDesk. The foundation will commit $5 million in funding across three grant tracks, and will be made in WLD token, the native token for the Worldcoin protocol, which runs on the Ethereum blockchain.
Remco Bloemen, the head of protocol at the Worldcoin Foundation, told CoinDesk in an interview that the grants are not just aimed at developers, but that “there's a larger community effort here to be made, which is also like raising awareness, educating people of the importance” of the work the technology tries to solve, in terms of “income inequality, governance and other existential risks.”
The grants will be given to projects that are looking into research and development efforts, such as the intersection of privacy and biometrics, Bloemen said. Other grant recipients could be those who come up with use cases that leverage Worldcoin and World ID.
This news comes as Sam Altman, the co-founder of Tools for Humanity, which is the primary developer firm behind Worldcoin, found himself in a messy kerfuffle with OpenAI, after initially being fired and then eventually rehired as CEO. [READ MORE]
On a sunny morning last December, Iyus Ruswandi, a 35-year-old furniture maker in the village of Gunungguruh, Indonesia, was woken up early by his mother. A technology company was holding some kind of “social assistance giveaway” at the local Islamic elementary school, she said, and she urged him to go.
Ruswandi joined a long line of residents, mostly women, some of whom had been waiting since 6 a.m. In the pandemic-battered economy, any kind of assistance was welcome.
At the front of the line, representatives of Worldcoin Indonesia were collecting emails and phone numbers, or aiming a futuristic metal orb at villagers’ faces to scan their irises and other biometric data. Village officials were also on site, passing out numbered tickets to the waiting residents to help keep order.
Ruswandi asked a Worldcoin representative what charity this was but learned nothing new: as his mother said, they were giving away money.
Gunungguruh was not alone in receiving a visit from Worldcoin. In villages across West Java, Indonesia—as well as college campuses, metro stops, markets, and urban centers in two dozen countries, most of them in the developing world—Worldcoin representatives were showing up for a day or two and collecting biometric data. In return they were known to offer everything from free cash (often local currency as well as Worldcoin tokens) to Airpods to promises of future wealth. In some cases they also made payments to local government officials. What they were not providing was much information on their real intentions.
This left many, including Ruswandi, perplexed: What was Worldcoin doing with all these iris scans?
To answer that question, and better understand Worldcoin’s registration and distribution process, MIT Technology Review interviewed over 35 individuals in six countries—Indonesia, Kenya, Sudan, Ghana, Chile, and Norway—who either worked for or on behalf of Worldcoin, had been scanned, or were unsuccessfully recruited to participate. We observed scans at a registration event in Indonesia, read conversations on social media and in mobile chat groups, and consulted reviews of Worldcoin’s wallet in the Google Play and Apple stores. We interviewed Worldcoin CEO Alex Blania, and submitted to the company a detailed list of reporting findings and questions for comment.
Our investigation revealed wide gaps between Worldcoin’s public messaging, which focused on protecting privacy, and what users experienced. We found that the company’s representatives used deceptive marketing practices, collected more personal data than it acknowledged, and failed to obtain meaningful informed consent. These practices may violate the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)—a likelihood that the company’s own data consent policy acknowledged and asked users to accept—as well as local laws.
In a video interview conducted in early March from Erlangen, Germany, where the company manufactures its orbs, Blania acknowledged that there was some “friction,” which he attributed to the fact that the company was still in its startup phase.
“I'm not sure if you're aware of this,” he said, “but you looked at the testing operation of a Series A company. It’s a few people trying to make something work. It’s not like an Uber, with like hundreds of people that did this many, many times.”
Proof of personhood
Two months before Worldcoin appeared in Ruswandi’s village, the San Francisco–based company called Tools for Humanity emerged from stealth mode. Worldcoin was its product.
The company’s website described Worldcoin as an Ethereum-based “new, collectively owned global currency that will be distributed fairly to as many people as possible.” Everyone in the world would get a free share, the company suggested—if they agreed to an iris scan with a specially designed device that resembles a decapitated robot head, which the company refers to as the “chrome orb.”
The orb was necessary, the website continued, because of Worldcoin’s commitment to fairness: each person should get his or her allotted share of the digital currency—and no more. To ensure there was no double-dipping, the chrome orb would scan participants’ irises and several other biometric data points and then, using a proprietary algorithm that the company was still developing, cryptographically confirm that they were human and unique in Worldcoin’s database.
“I’ve been very interested in things like universal basic income and what’s going to happen to global wealth redistribution,” Sam Altman, Worldcoin’s cofounder and the former President of Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator, told Bloomberg, which first reported on the company last summer. Worldcoin was intended, he explained, to answer the question “Is there a way we can use technology to do that at a global scale?”
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