Employees at a Swedish technology firm agreed to have a RFID chip, or radio frequency identification chip, inserted in their hands, according to the company.
The idea is not entirely new, some pet owners have implanted their dogs or other animals with micrchips to use as a virtual collar, and Mexico’s top federal prosecutors and investigators, about 160 of them, began receiving chip implants in their arms all the way back in 2004 in order to get access to restricted areas inside the attorney general’s headquarters. Yet this technology has never before been used to follow so many people from a private company in this way.
Epicenter, a digital hub in Stockholm that houses more than 300 startups and innovation labs for larger companies began implanting workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have the chips.
“The biggest benefit, I think, is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, Chief Executive Officer of Epicenter.
“It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys,” he adds.
Each microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. It works like a ‘swipe card’ an employee might use to enter an office building. It can open doors, operate printers, and even buy food, all with just a wave of the hand.
The microchips use the same technology that’s found in no-contact credit cards or payments from a mobile device, when activated by a reader, a small amount of data flows between the two devices via electromagnetic waves. But, unlike company swipe cards or smartphones, which can generate the same data, a person cannot easily separate themselves from the chip.
The chip implants do raise concerns about security and privacy. It can count bathroom breaks, identify an employee’s location and track cafeteria purchases, show when and how often an employee comes to work leading to invasion of privacy incidents and data collections.
Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, told the AP that hackers could conceivably gain huge swathes of information from embedded microchips. The ethical dilemmas will become bigger the more sophisticated the microchips become.
“The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone,” he says. “Conceptually you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that.”
Libberton said that if such information is collected, the big question remains of what happens to it, who uses it and for what purpose.