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Understanding the Orb and why Worldcoin uses biometrics

4 Minute Read

The Orb is a biometric imaging device that privately and securely verifies an individual’s unique personhood.

Before we get into more details about the Orb and its central role in helping Worldcoin enable universal access to the global economy, however, we first need to address the elephant in the room.

Are biometrics bad? 

This very much depends on the use case. Biometrics are the most accurate way to prove that someone is a unique, living, breathing human being. But they can also, quite understandably, feel unsettling and invasive.

That’s because biometrics are linked to our physical bodies. Using them as a means of personal identification can spark thoughts of a dystopian or authoritarian future (scroll down to learn about Worldcoin’s privacy protections).

Unfortunately, there are systems that misuse biometrics to limit personal freedom, and we strongly oppose such systems. When acquired and used in a responsible and privacy-preserving way, however, biometrics can be a powerful and inclusive tool—one that empowers individuals to take ownership of their identity and keeps our goods and institutions secure. 

You’ve probably already encountered this when unlocking your phone with your face or fingerprint, boarding certain flights with a biometric passport, accessing sporting or music events or registering to vote in particular countries. Biometrics can also be instrumental in providing digital identity to the 4.4 billion people worldwide who either don’t have a legal identity or have one that can’t be digitally verified. This is a major stumbling block when it comes to accessing financial services. 

Why Worldcoin uses iris biometrics 

When Worldcoin started, we didn’t intend to develop a biometric imaging device. Building custom hardware is difficult and expensive, and no one wants to do it if they can avoid it. 

Our goal was to freely distribute a new digital token to everyone in the world as a way to help them access and participate in the global economy. It was only after concluding that biometrics are the sole realistic way of achieving our goal that we set out to create the Orb. 

Our research showed that iris scanning offers the most accurate biometrics with an acceptable user experience that has been successfully tested at scale. This is because the iris has strong fraud resistance and data richness, meaning it can be used to accurately differentiate between billions of unique humans. The more data rich the biometric marker (e.g., the iris), the fairer and more inclusive the system.

And since commercially available iris imaging devices did not meet our technology or security needs, we spent years developing our own to enable universal access to the global economy in the most inclusive manner possible.

How does the Orb work?

It’s possible to use World App without going to an Orb. In order to sign up for World ID and receive a free share of Worldcoin Tokens, however, a person must visit a Worldcoin Operator and verify their unique personhood at an Orb. Here’s what that means. 

The Orb’s first task is to determine if someone is an actual living person that is not attempting to defraud the verification. It does this with a variety of camera sensors and machine learning models that analyze facial and iris features. Once that determination is made, the Orb takes a set of pictures of the person’s irises and uses several machine learning models and other computer vision techniques to create an iris code, which is a numerical representation of the most important features of an individual’s iris pattern. 

Learn more about the Orb’s hardware here.

All of these operations happen in real-time on the Orb. No images ever leave the device unless a person explicitly requests to back up their data for future upgrades and agrees to help us improve the system for everyone. For more information about the data the Orb collects and how we use it, you can review the Biometric Data Consent Form that each person agrees to when signing up at an Orb.

This iris code is then signed with the Orb’s unique private key and submitted for comparison against all other iris codes to verify uniqueness. Importantly, Worldcoin does not use your iris to identify who you are, only to verify that you’re unique.

Additional privacy and security features include the following:

  • Images collected by the Orb are promptly deleted unless specifically requested otherwise by the person signing up
  • No additional data (name, address, email, etc.) is required
  • By default, the only personal data that leaves the Orb is a message containing the iris code to validate uniqueness
  • Worldcoin does not, and never will, sell anyone’s personal data, including biometric data
  • All data is securely encrypted
  • Learn more about our commitment to privacy here

Learn More

We know this is a lot of information, so we’re continually updating our available resources to help people learn more about Worldcoin, the Orb, our commitment to privacy and more. 

You can also subscribe to the Worldcoin newsletter at the bottom of this page to stay up to date on the latest news, insights and updates.