Technology

Is Microchipping Employees Convenient Or Creepy?

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From buying coffee to unlocking the office door, it seems like everything these days is as easy as a swipe of a card. But what if that technology was in your body? That's the experiment several companies are performing: they're implanting the same microchip tech that powers your credit card inside their own employees. What does this mean for the future of the workplace?

Microchipping — So Hot Right Now

The trend began in 2015, when Swedish startup hub Epicenter began implanting workers with microchips that function as swipe cards, helping them open doors, buy snacks, and operate printers with just a wave of the hand. By 2017, 150 Epicenter employees had the chips, which are about the size of a grain of rice and go beneath the skin between the thumb and index finger via a small syringe. Belgian digital-media agency NewFusion also began microchipping workers around the same time.

In July of 2017, Three Square Market (32M) became the first U.S. company to join in the microchipping fray, in partnership with the Swedish company Biohax International. 32M made the procedure voluntary for its 85 employees, and around 50 agreed to get chipped. "It was pretty much 100 percent yes right from the get-go for me," software engineer Sam Bengtson told the New York Times. "In the next five to 10 years, this is going to be something that isn't scoffed at so much, or is more normal. So I like to jump on the bandwagon with these kind of things early, just to say that I have it."

The Signal Is Coming From Inside Your Hand

The microchips use radio-frequency identification (RFID), the same technology in many credit cards, passports, and smartphones. In that way, they're nothing new — it's just that now they can go under your skin; something that's already FDA approved. The tech uses electromagnetic fields to communicate with devices, which can read them at a maximum distance of 6 inches (15 cm). The benefits are clear: forgetting your swipe card or credit card at home would no longer be an issue, and you wouldn't be weighed down by a bulky wallet.

But of course, there are possible drawbacks. The chips would know details from when you came into work to how many times you used the bathroom, and they could store sensitive health information. RFID is easily hacked, and while many companies claim the chips are encrypted, Carnegie Mellon IT professor Alessandro Acquisti tells the New York Times that the term encryption "could include anything from a truly secure product to something that is easily hackable." That's worrisome enough when it comes to the cards and other RFID items we use to move through the world every day, but it's much more alarming to consider that hackers could access information that's in your body.

Still, those who are volunteering to be microchipped aren't worried. Says Biohax Sweden's Jowan Osterlund, "The next step for electronics is to move into the body."

RFID Explained

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