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This Is Uncomfortable

Would you let your boss microchip you?

Ben Johnson and Olga Oksman Jul 26, 2017
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A microchip implant like the kind Three Square Market uses, inserted under the skin.
Adam Berry/Getty Images

It sounds like the start of a dystopian novel. A company called Three Square Market inserts microchips in the hands of its employees, right between the thumb and pointer finger. Being part machine does not hurt much, Tony Danna, vice president of international development at the company assured us.

“It stings you when it goes in. It takes about two seconds to go in,” Danna said. You may think it is weird, but according to Danna, it’s not weird, it’s “advanced.”

Bio-hackers have been inserting radio-frequency identification chips into their hands for a few years now, but this is the first time a company has offered it as a perk to employees. The $300 chips are inserted, and importantly, if an employee wants, removed, for free at the Wisconsin-based high tech vending machine company. Just like any credit card or ID card chip, the implant allows employees to pay for their lunch or open the door to their office. The only difference is that they can now do it with a wave of their hand. Out of 85 employees at the company, 50 have agreed to have the chip implanted, including, of course, Danna. Three Square Market has a particular interest in RFID technology because its vending machines can be operated using it.

“I don’t want to carry a wallet with me anymore. Actually, I forgot my wallet today. I didn’t even bring it to work. It’d be nice to be able to get some lunch. But you got your wallet, you got your key, your company badge. Now forget about all of that. That’s all in that implant in your hand,” Danna said.

Another perk of the RFID chip? No need to remember your computer passwords.

“Forget about all the passwords that you try and remember. Now your RFID chips are going to be able to do that work for you,” Danna said.

In case you are worried that companies will start to use the RFID chips to track the whereabouts of employees, the chip used by Three Square Market has no GPS component. Instead, it is a progression from the credit card chips and iPhone pay functions we already use, simply carried under your skin instead of in your wallet or pocket. 

But that does not mean that future versions of RFID chips at companies can’t have a tracking component. Speaking with NBC News, Duke computer science professor Vincent Conitzer took a more cautious approach to the technology and its future utilization.

“If most employees agree, it may become a workplace expectation. Then, the next iteration of the technology allows some additional tracking functionality. And so it goes until employees are expected to implant something that allows them to be constantly monitored, even outside of work,” Conitzer said. “And unlike with a card, phone or ring, the employee cannot easily and selectively remove the device. Now is the right time to have a robust societal conversation about what we would like to see happen, rather than just seeing where things go and then realizing we can’t go back.”

How those societal conversations play out remains to be seen. But if having a RFID chip inserted under your skin still brings to mind paranoid science fiction or your dog’s microchip, you may have to get over your fears soon. According to Danna, “The amount of phone calls we’ve received from companies that are interested in also offering it to their employees has been, it’s been overwhelming, it’s been really cool.”

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