A Wisconsin company has become the first in the US to introduce voluntary microchip implants for its employees to assist with building access and purchasing snacks.
The company (Three Square Market, also known as 32M) sells "micro market technology" and so the voluntary 'chipping' seems to be product road testing as much as it is a peculiar perk. The company says it's expecting over 50 of its staff members to be 'chipped' at a “chip party” this week. The chips are the size of a grain of rice and are inserted underneath the skin between the thumb and index finger using a syringe, taking all of a couple of seconds. Starting to sound like an episode of Black Mirror?
The microchips will enable employees to open doors, log onto their computers and purchase break room snacks with a simple swipe of the hand. The company says in its blog post on the initiative that the chips will not track workers' locations by GPS and will only contain information employees choose to associate with their chip. Even so, the chips could still give the company access to a huge amount of data about what its employees do and when (e.g. what snacks they buy and at what times). On its own, that information may be seemingly innocuous, but it's possible that access to such information could facilitate employee tracking - for instance, length of employee breaks, without employee consent or knowledge.
32M hopes the US$300 microchips can eventually be used to make buying snacks, or opening doors, easier, but also to assist with travel (airlines), boarder control (customs), public transit (municipal organisations) and storing medical information (hospitals). This has sounded alarm bells due to the potential for “functional creep”, that is, when technology designed for one purpose can later be used for other more invasive (and potentially unlawful) purposes.
Another concern relates to security. 32M says the chips are encrypted, but "encrypted" is vague and doesn't necessarily mean the chips are truly secure.
It's possibly a long way off before similar technology is introduced in New Zealand (presumably microchipping for humans would need to receive regulatory approval here first), but the question we should be asking ourselves now is: what level of privacy and security are we willing to trade for convenience?
A Wisconsin company is offering to microchip its employees, enabling them to open doors, log onto their computers and purchase break room snacks with a simple swipe of the hand.