Why A Wisconsin Company Wants To Insert Rice-Sized Microchips Into Their Employees' Skin

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A tech firm in Wisconsin recently made news — not for any new product or software — but rather because they announced that they will begin offering to implant microchips underneath the skin of their employees.

And, so far, the majority of their employees are into it.

The company, Three Square Market, will make an implantable RFID chip available to all of its employees, which can be placed in their hands, in the skin between their thumb and forefinger. And that chip will be able to open doors, unlock printers, pay for food in the cafeteria — all with a simple wave of their hand. (Technology, right?)

The announcement was met with a mixture of skepticism and interest from news sources around the world, but, as I mentioned, more than 50 of the firm’s 80 employees have already consented to have the microchip inserted, so people are undeniably intrigued by the idea.

One software engineer at the company was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “It was pretty much 100 percent yes right from the get-go for me. … 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.”

(It should be noted that Three Square Market is making other options available, like RFID keychains, for employees who would prefer not to receive the implant.)

So would you do it? Would you allow your employer to microchip you? To insert a chip, the size of a grain of rice, under your skin for work purposes?

I’ll admit, my initial reaction was one of revulsion. “UGH. Under my skin?! NO WAY.” But, to be fair, when you look at the facts, many of us are already much further down the road with this technology than we maybe realize.

The most common example of this kind of technology is one that we probably recognize from our pets — we’ve been able to have dogs or cats microchipped for years.

Now you might (understandably) roll your eyes at the idea of consenting to a procedure that we reserve for dogs who can’t tell strangers that they’re lost, but, the fact is pet microchipping just proves that this kind of inserted RFID technology is both useful and relatively safe. (We’ve been testing it on animals for years.)

Next, have you been to Disney World lately? If you have, you’ve probably used their Magic Bands, which operate on the exact same principles as the inserted RFID chips. You just wave your band in front of a reader and you can enter the park, buy something at the gift shop, open your hotel room door, or even let the chef at the restaurant know about your dietary restrictions.

Thousands of people are using this RFID technology every day at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” And, depending on what state you live in, you probably have a RFID chip in your driver’s license (and credit cards too).

(There are even early tests to use microchips to support birth control and, in one of the crazier stories I've heard, inserting a microchip in a man's genitals to prevent him from cheating.)

Also, despite all of the news that Three Square Market is now attracting, the beta versions of employee microchipping has been going on for years. This 2006 CNN article (over 11 years ago) talked about companies in Florida and Ohio starting to tag their employees with RFID chips, so it’s not a new development.

But that doesn’t mean that the whole idea of chipping isn’t scary — because it is.

One common concern is that the chips can be used to track an employee’s movements (even outside of the office).

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In theory, they can’t — RFID doesn’t operate in the same way as a GPS system — but almost every article about Three Square Market’s new program includes this quote from Todd Westby, their Chief Executive, where he points out that “Your cellphone does 100 times more reporting of data than does an RFID chip.”

And that’s true. Complaining that you’re worried about a tiny chip in your hand tracking your every movement while you have an unsecured smartphone in your pocket is a bit silly.

However, all that being said, I still don’t think I’d personally consent to have my hand microchipped.

Why?

Because the return on investment seems so low.

At the moment, the chip seems like it’s no more effective than a wristband or a keychain, so… why take that extra step towards biological implants?

The only added benefit I can see is that it can’t be lost. You can’t forget your ID at home, which is nice, but I can’t really see myself consenting to a minor medical procedure just to make sure I don’t lose my keychain.

Otherwise, what’s the benefit? I’m assuming the chips can be damaged or broken, so keeping them underneath the skin seems like it makes replacement/maintenance that much harder.

And I haven’t seen anything mentioned about employee retention in any of these reports about the microchipping, which seems like a HUGE issue to me.

According to TechRepublic and other sources, tech companies like Three Square Market and their brethren have the highest turnover rates of ANY industry.

So, knowing that, does it really make sense to implant a microchip in your hand — even one as small as a grain of rice — if you might be changing your job in 6, 9, or 12 months? Is it really that hard to not lose a keychain for a little more than a year?

The Three Square Market story proves that RFID technology is here, it is proven, and it will probably continue to work its way into our daily lives (even though, in many cases, it’s already present).

But, just because it’s shiny and futuristic, that doesn’t mean that it’s 100% practical yet.

We may be headed towards the Singularity — that fabled moment in the future when technology and biology will supposedly merge together in ways we can’t imagine — but, in 2017, I think a microchip needs to do more than unlock a door or pay for my coffee before I consent to make it a semi-permanent addition to my body.

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