Tech Firm Is First to Offer Employees Implantable RFID Chips

A Wisconsin-based technology company, Three Square Market, is offering its employees the chance to have a microchip injected between their thumb and index finger. The grain-of-rice sized chip, once injected, will allow an employee to swipe her hand to pay for food in the cafeteria, enter the office building or accomplish any other task involving RFID technology. Though the implant might sound like overreach, more than 50 of the company’s 80 employees have signed up for the implant when it is first offered on August 1.

The New York Times reports that the program — the first of its kind in the U.S. — is the result of a partnership between Three Square Market (32M) and Swedish company Biohax International. Biohax has already partnered with Swedish company Epicenter.

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At 32M, software engineer Sam Bengtson was enthusiastic at getting the implant, although another software engineer Jon Krusell and sales director Melissa Timmins were a bit iffy. Krusell wants a ring with a chip, and Timmins said she is “a little nervous about implanting something into my body.”

According to the 32M blog, “employees interested in the technology, but not the implant … can place the microchip in an RFID wristband or an RFID/Near-Field Communication Smart Ring.”

Privacy and health concerns remain. Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College professor Alessandro Acquisti noted that the term “encrypted” is vague and “could include anything from a truly secure product to something that is easily hackable.” He also reported that, “once they are implanted, it’s very hard to predict or stop a future widening of their usage.”

Three Square chief executive Todd Westby stated that the chip is “a passive device and can only give data when data’s requested.”

“Nobody can track you with it,” he added. “Your cellphone does 100 times more reporting of data than does an RFID chip.” Engadget adds that, “there’s no GPS tracking, the company says, and all your data is encrypted,” dubbing the chip “a substitute for your credit card and security passes.”

With regard to health concerns, the Food and Drug Administration approved “implantable radio-frequency transponder systems” in 2004 for medical uses and found that, “in rare cases, the implantation site may become infected, or the chip may migrate elsewhere in the body.”

Three Square general manager Dewey Wahlin “emphasized that the chips are FDA-approved and removable,” and noted that employees at technology companies are probably more receptive than others might be. “When all is said and done, they’re excited about it,” he said. “They see this as the future.”