The emergence of Black Market for Worldcoin Credentials in China Raises Concerns
The crypto project Worldcoin, led by OpenAI C.E.O. Sam Altman, has gained traction in China, leading to a surge in demand for know-your-customer (KYC) verifications on the black market. While Worldcoin’s crypto wallet, World App, is not officially available in mainland China due to strict regulations on foreign social media apps, users have sought alternative means to access the platform.
CoinDesk’s observations indicate that World App is not accessible in mainland China, although it remains unclear whether Chinese users can download the app from local app stores. Worldcoin has not provided confirmation on this matter.
On Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat, searches for the Worldcoin hashtag witnessed significant growth, suggesting a rising interest in the project. Notably, the surge in attention coincided with Sam Altman’s testimony before the U.S. Congress on May 16, which likely contributed to the heightened curiosity surrounding Worldcoin.
Concurrently, a black market has emerged on Chinese social media and e-commerce sites, where sellers offer KYC verifications for the World App’s wallet and ID services. These credentials are often sourced from developing countries like Cambodia and Kenya, as indicated in social media posts.
Worldcoin acknowledged that several hundred instances of such activity had been identified, emphasizing that no sensitive data was compromised. The company stated that individuals were incentivized to sign up for a verified World ID, which was then delivered to a third party’s World App instead of their own.
Similar black markets for credentials pertaining to crypto exchanges and other applications exist within the Chinese Internet ecosystem. Despite various restrictions on crypto trading in mainland China, traders have become adept at circumventing barriers.
The emergence of this black market undermines one of Worldcoin’s fundamental objectives: the creation and global dissemination of a blockchain-based identification method utilizing iris recognition. To enroll in Worldcoin, users must visit a local representative who scans their irises using a futuristic metal orb, ensuring their data’s anonymization and local storage.
Worldcoin, envisioning a future where its “privacy first, self-custodial, decentralized” ID becomes the foundation of the internet, currently employs this technology within its wallet app.
To incentivize users, Worldcoin offers free tokens upon sign-up and recently announced a partnership with the decentralized email service Dmail, wherein signees will receive free non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
The existence of a black market for Worldcoin credentials was initially reported by the Chinese crypto site Blockbeats, which highlighted that fake iris scans could be obtained for as little as $20.
Listings offering Worldcoin access have surfaced on Taobao, China’s equivalent of Amazon. CoinDesk’s review of these listings revealed various options, ranging from a simple app download for RMB 9.9 ($1.41) to complete KYC certification for RMB 499.