Wisconsin Company First in U.S. to Offer Employees Human Chip Implants with Payment Processing Implications

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Three Square Market (32M) is taking a big step beyond network-connected wearables and augmented reality, offering implanted chip technology to all its employees. Reportedly the first company in the U.S. to offer chip implants to its employees, the initiative invokes visions of a ‘cyborgs’ or the integration of technology and humans.

Chip Implants in Humans

Company employees who opt-in will have a tiny RFID (radio frequency identification) microchip implanted underneath the skin between their thumb and forefinger, 32M explains in a press release. Similar to SIM chips in mobile communications devices, RFID “tags” have been used widely in a variety of forms to make it easier to buy things.

It’s a big step from paying for products or services by scanning or snapping and sending a photo of product’s bar code with your mobile phone to having a chip implanted in your body, however.The implications, given widespread adoption, would be deep and far reaching in the world of e-commerce, ethics, security, and humankind.

Working in partnership with its partner, Sweden’s Biohax International, 32M is “is focused on privacy and integrity, ethical development and sustainability,” management says. “Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.” commented 32M CEO, Todd Westby.

Applications Include Payment Processing

As it stands now, the RFID chip implant will allow employees to make purchases in the company’s break room market, as well as open doors, log-in to computer systems, use copy machines and other things [or prevent access].

It works like the now familiar RFID proximity, near-field communications (NFC) cards used in “contactless” credit cards to pay for and gain access to public transportation, as well as a diverse range of other applications, such as tracking products, including once living organisms, such as fish and timber, as they make their way across supply chains to markets.

“By holding the chip up to the device reader, the unique serial number associates the user with the software, the software then performs the requested function,” 32M explains.

The chip does not have GPS capabilities and isn’t traceable, according to 32M. Furthermore, it only contains information volunteer participants choose to incorporate within it and all data is encrypted. In addition, data can only be read when positioned a few inches from a compatible device scanner.

Impact on the Body

Turning to its effects on the human body, 32M highlights that the NFC RFID chip implant technology was approved by the U.S. FDA in 2004. It’s only inserted by licensed professionals. Moreover, removing it is as simple and easy as removing a splinter.

32M is investing in the chip implant technology to add to its expanding line of self-checkout businesses. “We see this as another payment and identification option that not only can be used in our markets but our other self-checkout/self-service applications that we are now deploying which include convenience stores and fitness centers,” COO Patrick McMullan explained.

More than 50 of the 80 employees at Three Square’s headquarters in River Falls, Wis., had volunteered to have chips implanted, according to a New York Times report.

“It was pretty much 100 percent yes right from the get-go for me,” 32M software engineer Sam Bengtson was quoted as saying. “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.”

Future Implications

Carnegie Mellon University professor of information technology and public policy Alessandro Acquisiti highlighted some of the sensitive issues associated with implanting chips in human subjects. “Companies often claim that these chips are secure and encrypted,” he told the New York Times. “Encrypted is a pretty vague term [that could include] anything from a truly secure product to something that is easily ‘hackable.'”

As is the case with any new technology, chip implants might be put to other purposes than those they were initially intended to provide. “Once they are implanted, it’s very hard to predict or stop a future widening of their usage,” Dr. Acquisti said.

“A microchip implanted today to allow for easy building access and payments could, in theory, be used later in more invasive ways: to track the length of employees’ bathroom or lunch breaks, for instance, without their consent or even their knowledge,” the New York Times’ Maggie Astor reports

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