What This Company Is Offering Employees Is Raising a Privacy Debate

July 24th 2017

Employees at a Wisconsin's Three Square Market—a company that installs self-service vending machines inside offices—will become the first U.S. business to implant a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip into their employees in their hand. The chip, which uses the same exact technology as a contactless credit card, or the Apple Pay function on an iPhone, will allow employees to simply wave their hand in front of a sensor when they want to open a door, or pay for something.

Understandably, there are those who have been critical of the move.

Three Square Market are not the first company to implement this technology. The Swedish startup hub Epicenter initiated the practice in 2014, leading to understandable criticism. "As with most new technologies, it raises security and privacy issues," CNBC wrote at the time and also added, "While biologically safe, the data generated by the chips can show how often an employee comes to work or what they buy. Unlike company swipe cards or smartphones, which can generate the same data, a person cannot easily separate themselves from the chip."

Users on Twitter offered similar concerns regarding Three Square Market:

Tony Danna, the vice-president of international development at Three Square Market, defended the implementation to the BBC, and noted, "there is no GPS tracking ability to it. It is really the same thing as the chip that is in your credit card." 

But some weren't content to take Mr. Danna at his word:

Most of the company's employees have volunteered already. 

While many of us might react with skepticism to someone—particularly your boss—offering to implant you with a chip, a majority of the employees at Three Square Market have seemed on board with the idea, which, it should be noted, is optional. According to the BBC, "out of 85 employees at the company's head office, 50 have come forward."

Could the chip actually make life easier for Three Square Market's employees?

In some ways, yes. While the technology in the chip is the same as that in your credit card, the chip can be used for a whole lot more. According to a press release, "Employees will be implanted with a RFID chip allowing them to make purchases in their break room micro market, open doors, login to computers, use the copy machine, etc." Basically, the chip would replace your wallet, keys, any I.D. cards, and even your login username and password.

Can it be removed?

Yes. The chip is shockingly easy to take in and out. As Danna told the BBC, "It takes about two seconds to put it in and to take it out," explaining that it goes in via a syringe, and that when it comes out, it's not unlike simply removing a splinter. In 2015, the BBC sent tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones to get 'chipped.' He reported a largely painless procedure, "First, he massaged the skin between my thumb and index finger and rubbed in some disinfectant. The he told me to take a deep breath while he inserted the chip. There was a moment of pain - not much worse than any injection - and then he stuck a plaster over my hand."

The future for implantable tech remains unclear. 

But according to Three Square Market CEO Todd Westby, such technology is likely to spread into many other societal realms. As he said in the press release, "Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, [and] all purchasing opportunities."

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Would you get the chip installed?

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