Technology is always at our fingertips, but soon, that technology might be in our fingertips. A Wisconsin tech company, Three Square Market, or 32M, is teaming up with Swedish company Biohax International, to offer its employees implanted microchips. The microchips are about the size of a grain of rice and are implanted under the skin between the thumb and index finger through a syringe. Employees with an implant will be able to use their hands to gain access to the building, login to their computers, use office equipment, pay for snacks, and more.
The chip uses a type of radio-frequency identification technology, or RFID, called near field communication, or NFC. This technology addresses some privacy and security concerns as follows: (1) they are “passive,” meaning they cannot broadcast information on their own and must instead be activated by a nearby reader, and (2) the chips must be within just a few inches of the reader to work. Additionally, you can’t misplace your hands like you can a password, ID, or credit card, leading to a lower risk of hacking for the company. The chips are also not GPS-enabled and do not allow for tracking the way cell-phones do.
The FDA approved the microchips in 2004, meaning the devices were reviewed for health safety. There currently is no formal cybersecurity evaluation required for FDA approval, although the FDA is starting to consider such a requirement with the increasingly connected nature of medical devices. The FDA released a guidance document late last year and have publicized three instances of cybersecurity vulnerabilities discovered in devices and implants.
Many are concerned about cybersecurity issues and the privacy implications of the chips. Beyond the “creepy” factor in inserting a device into your body for your employer, a biological chip could theoretically be used to monitor the length of employees’ bathroom or lunch breaks without their knowledge as they access doors within the building, although this is already possible in many workplaces requiring ID cards for entry. Additionally, no connected device is 100% secure. There is always the risk of a hacker getting access to the data of the chip, revealing the intimate behaviors and movements of any chipped employee, or even the access codes embedded within.
Although this program is entirely optional, 32M’s employees seem enthusiastic. So far, about 50 of 32M’s 80 employees have volunteered to get chipped. For those anxious about the health or privacy implications of an implanted chip, 32M also offers the same technology in a wristband or ring.
Author and M/L intern, Kathleen Riley hopes this means she will never lose her car keys again. Kathleen Riley is a rising 3L at UNC School of Law studying intellectual property.