Have you ever lost your keys? Your credit card? The keycard you desperately need to get into your office building? Of course, you have! So think long and hard about this next question: Would you trade out all of those items for a tiny microchip implanted into your skin?
Here’s another idea. Imagine all of the smart devices you wear and the information they collect being stored in that same microchip. As futuristic as it sounds, there are already thousands of people using microchips injected into their skin to replace things like credit cards, keys, an ID and, in some cases, train tickets. They’re being used around the world, including in the United States!
What Is Microchipping?
In the case of microchipping, also known as biohacking, a rice-sized microchip is inserted into your hand in seconds. The phenomenon is based on the idea of using the human body to connect to technology.
There are two types of technology associated with microchips.
Some microchips use RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. Also referred to as “chip” technology, it uses electromagnetic fields to identify electronically stored information. It’s the same technology used in credit cards that you wave over a screen, instead of cards you scan through a credit card reader.
People can also get NFC (near-field communication) chips embedded into their hands.
Both types allow users to send data without any wires, phones or codes.
Swedes Embrace Microchips
Sweden is embracing microchip technology faster than any other country. Swedes began experimenting with microchips starting in 2015. Right now, about 3,000 people in Sweden have traded in wallets and handbags for a simple swipe of the hand!
Volunteer Ulrika Celsing says she waves her hand over a small box to get into work.
“It was fun to try something new and to see what one could use it for to make life easier in the future,” Celsing told the Agence France-Presse, according to Yahoo News.
Swedish biohacking company BioNyfiken is even making implant parties a thing. The company gets groups of people together to get chips embedded into their hands at the same time.
Here’s one example of a chip implanting event from 2015:
Chip implanting at #ifa15 with @KasperskyLab pic.twitter.com/eM6iLsEdSU
— BioNyfiken (@BioNyfiken) September 9, 2015
BioNyfiken helped out Swedish company Epicenter, which hosted an implanting party so its own employees could get microchips:
RT @IT_Lotsen: Biohacking with #bionyfiken @EpicenterSthlm rationaliserar bort mobilen med chip under huden. pic.twitter.com/kQZrsW5jP0
— BioNyfiken (@BioNyfiken) June 15, 2015
The owner of BioNyfiken claims to have hosted implant parties in several countries, including Mexico, Greece, Germany, England, Denmark and the U.S. Check out the invite to an implant party in Paris from 2015:
Join us for #ImplantParty in Paris on 13 June! http://t.co/jzeNjof8SI #fens2015 @futur_en_seine pic.twitter.com/2L5yv2OGJS #NFC
— BioNyfiken (@BioNyfiken) May 18, 2015
Also in Sweden, about 130 passengers volunteered to take part in a microchip service with Sweden’s national railway company SJ. Train employees walk the train aisles scanning passengers’ hands for chips instead of traditional tickets!
In 2017, Three Square Market became the first U.S. company to microchip its employees. About 50 employees volunteered.
The company, based in River Falls, Wisconsin, produces those micro mini-convenience stores you find in office buildings. The markets have self-checkout kiosks instead of cashiers. It’s only fitting that a software design company would want to be among the first to microchip employees.
#Software design house @32Market 1st to offers implanted #microchips to employees. #WearableTech #FinTech #IoT pic.twitter.com/6dMFhxRuyw
— Mike Quindazzi ✨ (@MikeQuindazzi) August 25, 2017
Three Square Market CEO Todd Westby says he foresees his employees using RFID technology to make purchases in the break room, to open doors, to use the copy machines and even to log into computers.
“Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.,” said Westby.
The Potential Risks And Benefits
The procedure itself is described as a quick “sting.” But what are the risks to having a piece of technology under your skin?
The Food and Drug Administration approved RFID tags for humans back in 2004. But other agencies, including the American Medical Association, have concerns. First is the size of the implant. The AMA fears the devices could be difficult to remove. It also warns that the signal from the chip could interfere with medical devices like defibrillators.
One microbiologist worries about infections, and about how the body’s immune system will react.
On the other hand, some argue that the chips will be capable of monitoring cancer and diseases that cause inflammation. Others suggest the chips could replace health trackers to measure steps and blood pressure.
Another factor to consider is how you get your chip inserted. Legally, that depends upon where you live. Some U.S. states allow professional piercers and tattoo artists to perform the procedure. In other states, you might have to implant the device yourself!
Notice the tattoos? Piercing specialists and tattoo artists are often seen taking part in the implant process:
Biohacking au @luffestival 2016! Workshop avec @BioNyfiken et offre: implant NFC/RFID pour 80.- CHF. Inscriptions: https://t.co/XE5LEjENEL pic.twitter.com/MyHXnsAjz0
— Marc Zendrini (@marczen) October 14, 2016
Is This The Future?
Biohacking retailer Dangerous Things told Business Insider that Google, Samsung and Apple have all bought products from the company. Let the technology wars begin!
But what about our privacy?
Swedes are culturally more comfortable with technology and less concerned about information sharing. In Sweden, you can find out another person’s salary with a phone call to the tax authority — so it shouldn’t be a surprise that Sweden has become a microchipping hub. Celsing said she does not fear hacking or surveillance after getting the chip inserted.
At Three Square Market, Westby said his employees were not required to get the microchips, and no GPS tracking would be involved.
What do you think? Are you ready to hold all that data in your hand?