As the Worldcoin mainnet goes live, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin shared his thoughts on Worldcoin and the broader topic of biometric proof of personhood in a detailed blog post.
Worldcoin, backed by OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman, is a proof of personhood initiative to distinguish genuine human identities from bots and other artificial identities. The distinguishing factor? A specialized ‘Orb’ hardware scans an individual’s iris for biometric proof.
Buterin’s Take on Worldcoin’s Approach and Privacy Concerns
In the detailed analysis of Worldcoin’s approach to biometric identification, Buterin acknowledges the privacy benefits of storing iris hashes. “To me, the privacy of storing iris hashes seems sufficient,” he asserts, indicating an acceptance of the privacy levels afforded by this method.
However, as Buterin points out, while Worldcoin presents a compelling solution to complex identity issues, it is not without its share of concerns.
Buterin further defends the use of specialized hardware like Worldcoin’s Orb in identity verification, emphasizing their superiority in terms of security.
He argues, “Specialized hardware is inherently harder to fool than commodity hardware, which is in turn harder to fool than digital algorithms verifying pictures and videos.” The crux of these concerns is the delicate balance between privacy preservation and identity verifiability.
As Buterin explains, hashing iris scans to limit data exposure doesn’t entirely eliminate privacy concerns. “It enables others to check if a user has registered,” he notes. Furthermore, using proprietary hardware like Worldcoin’s Orb presents potential barriers to accessibility, creating a risk of centralization.
To combat these issues, Worldcoin is reportedly turning towards open sourcing, decentralization of Orb manufacturing, and governance decentralization over time.
Solutions to Tackle Identity Verification Issues
However, hurdles remain, including coercion prevention and ensuring hardware authenticity. Areas devoid of Orb access also risk exclusion from this identity verification method, adding to the accessibility concerns.
To tackle the potential issue of ID selling, Buterin proposes a solution: re-registration.
“Allowing people who have a registered ID to re-register, canceling the previous ID. This makes ‘ID selling’ much less credible.”
He also addresses alternative methods to biometric proof, like social graph approaches. While avoiding biometric data collection, these strategies may still leak personal information and are potentially more accessible to wealthier individuals who can create multiple identities.
According to the Ethereum co-founder, combining biometrics, social graphs, and general hardware techniques might lead to a more robust solution. “Biometric bootstrapping may work better short-term, and social-graph-based techniques may be more robust long-term,” he muses.
Additionally, he touches on using Multi-Party Computation (MPC) as a countermeasure against vote selling.
However, while these measures can mitigate some risks, Buterin acknowledges that others, like coercion, cannot be entirely eliminated. “What is feasible is making this kind of abuse more annoying to implement and detectable,” he states, implying that making coercion harder to execute and easier to detect could act as a deterrent.
Warnings from Vitalik
Buterin also expresses concern over the potential undermining of pseudonymity. “A pessimist, however, might argue that it is naive to try to create a more privacy-friendly form of ID and hope that it will actually get adopted in the right way,” he writes.
He advises caution in the face of business motivations, suggesting that community vigilance and a push towards decentralization are crucial to harnessing the benefits of proof of personhood while minimizing the risks.
Finally, he warns of the risks of complete decentralization and anonymity, arguing that such an approach could lead to an inability to counteract wealth concentration and governance centralization. This adds yet another dimension to the complex discussion around identity and privacy in the crypto world.
As the debate continues, these insights from a leading figure in the industry add valuable perspective on the path toward a more secure and equitable digital future. A balanced approach, such as the one suggested by Buterin, may be the key to navigating these challenges while promoting innovation.