A January 23, 2018 article by John Converse Townsend for Fast Company highlights the author’s experience of ‘getting chipped’ in Wisconsin (US),
I have an RFID, or radio frequency ID, microchip implanted in my hand. Now with a wave, I can unlock doors, fire off texts, login to my computer, and even make credit card payments.
There are others like me: The majority of employees at the Wisconsin tech company Three Square Market (or 32M) have RFID implants, too. Last summer, with the help of Andy “Gonzo” Whitehead, a local body piercer with 17 years of experience, the company hosted a “chipping party” for employees who’d volunteered to test the technology in the workplace.
“We first presented the concept of being chipped to the employees, thinking we might get a few people interested,” CEO [Chief Executive Officer] Todd Westby, who has implants in both hands, told me. “Literally out of the box, we had 40 people out of close to 90 that were here that said, within 10 minutes, ‘I would like to be chipped.’”
Westby’s left hand can get him into the office, make phone calls, and stores his living will and drivers license information, while the chip in his right hand is using for testing new applications. (The CEO’s entire family is chipped, too.) Other employees said they have bitcoin wallets and photos stored on their devices.
The legendary Gonzo Whitehead was waiting for me when I arrived at Three Square Market HQ, located in quiet River Falls, 40 minutes east of Minneapolis. The minutes leading up to the big moment were a bit nervy, after seeing the size of the needle (it’s huge), but the experience was easier than I could have imagined. The RFID chip is the size of a grain of basmati rice, but the pain wasn’t so bad–comparable to a bee sting, and maybe less so. I experienced a bit of bruising afterward (no bleeding), and today the last remaining mark of trauma is a tiny, fading scar between my thumb and index finger. Unless you were looking for it, the chip resting under my skin is invisible.
Truth is, the applications for RFID implants are pretty cool. But right now, they’re also limited. Without a near-field communication (NFC) writer/reader, which powers on a “passive” RFID chip to write and read information to the device’s memory, an implant isn’t of much use. But that’s mostly a hardware issue. As NFC technology becomes available, which is increasingly everywhere thanks to Samsung Pay and Apple Pay and new contactless “tap-and-go” credit cards, the possibilities become limitless. [emphasis mine]
Health and privacy?
Townsend does cover a few possible downsides to the ‘limitless possibilities’ offered by RFID’s combined with NFC technology,
From a health perspective, the RFID implants are biologically safe–not so different from birth control implants [emphasis mine]. [US Food and Drug Administration] FDA-sanctioned for use in humans since 2004, the chips neither trigger metal detectors nor disrupt [magnetic resonance imaging] MRIs, and their glass casings hold up to pressure testing, whether that’s being dropped from a rooftop or being run over by a pickup truck.
The privacy side of things is a bit more complicated, but the undeniable reality is that privacy isn’t as prized as we’d like to think [emphasis mine]. It’s already a regular concession to convenience.
“Your information’s for sale every day,” McMullen [Patrick McMullen, president, Three Square Market] says. “Thirty-four billion avenues exist for your information to travel down every single day, whether you’re checking Facebook, checking out at the supermarket, driving your car . . . your information’s everywhere.
Townsend may not be fully up-to-date on the subject of birth control implants. I think ‘safeish’ might be a better description in light of this news of almost two years ago (from a March 1, 2016 news item on CBS [Columbia Broadcasting Service] News [online]), Note: Links have been removed,
[US] Federal health regulators plan to warn consumers more strongly about Essure, a contraceptive implant that has drawn thousands of complaints from women reporting chronic pain, bleeding and other health problems.
The Food and Drug Administration announced Monday it would add a boxed warning — its most serious type — to alert doctors and patients to problems reported with the nickel-titanium implant.
But the FDA stopped short of removing the device from the market, a step favored by many women who have petitioned the agency in the last year. Instead, the agency is requiring manufacturer Bayer to conduct studies of the device to further assess its risks in different groups of women.
The FDA is requiring Bayer to conduct a study of 2,000 patients comparing problems like unplanned pregnancy and pelvic pain between patients getting Essure and those receiving traditional “tube tying” surgery. Agency officials said they have reviewed more than 600 reports of women becoming pregnant after receiving Essure. Women are supposed to get a test after three months to make sure Essure is working appropriately, but the agency noted some women do not follow-up for the test.
FDA officials acknowledged the proposed study would take years to complete, but said Bayer would be expected to submit interim results by mid-2017.
According to a Sept. 25, 2017 article by Kerri O’Brien for WRIC.com, Bayer had suspended sales of their device in all countries except the US,
Bayer, the manufacturer of Essure, has announced it’s halting sales of Essure in all countries outside of the U.S. In a statement, Bayer told 8News it’s due to a lack of interest in the product outside of the U.S.
“Bayer made a commercial decision this Spring to discontinue the distribution of Essure® outside of the U.S. where there is not as much patient interest in permanent birth control,” the statement read.
The move also comes after the European Union suspended sales of the device. The suspension was prompted by the National Standards Authority of Ireland declining to renew Essure’s CE marketing. “CE,” according to the European Commission website signifies products sold in the EEA that has been assessed to meet “high safety, health, and environmental protection requirements.”
These excerpts are about the Essure birth control implant. Perhaps others are safer? That noted, it does seem that Townsend was a bit dismissive of safety concerns.
As for privacy, he does investigate further to discover this,
As technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated, the methods to break it also evolve and get more sophisticated, says D.C.-based privacy expert Michelle De Mooy. Even so, McMullen believes that our personal information is safer in our hand than in our wallets. He says the smartphone you touch 2,500 times a day does 100 times more reporting of data than does an RFID implant, plus the chip can save you from pickpockets and avoid credit card skimmers altogether.
Well, the first sentence suggests some caution. As for De Mooy, there’s this from her profile page on the Center for Democracy and Technology website (Note: A link has been removed),
Michelle De Mooy is Director of the Privacy & Data Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology. She advocates for data privacy rights and protections in legislation and regulation, works closely with industry and other stakeholders to investigate good data practices and controls, as well as identifying and researching emerging technology that impacts personal privacy. She leads CDT’s health privacy work, chairing the Health Privacy Working Group and focusing on the intersection between individual privacy, health information and technology. Michelle’s current research is focused on ethical and privacy-aware internal research and development in wearables, the application of data analytics to health information found on non-traditional platforms, like social media, and the growing market for genetic data. She has testified before Congress on health policy, spoken about native advertising at the Federal Trade Commission, and written about employee wellness programs for US News & World Report’s “Policy Dose” blog. Michelle is a frequent media contributor, appearing in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Vice, and the Los Angeles Times, as well as on The Today Show, Voice of America, and Government Matters TV programs.
Townsend does raise some ethical issues (Note: A link has been removed),
… Word from CEO Todd Westby is that parents in Wisconsin have been asking whether (and when) they can have their children implanted with GPS-enabled devices (which, incidentally, is the subject of the “Arkangel” episode in the new season of Black Mirror [US television programme]). But that, of course, raises ethical questions: What if a kid refused to be chipped? What if they never knew?
Final comments on implanted RFID chips and bodyhacking
It doesn’t seem that implantable chips have changed much since I first wrote about them in a May 27, 2010 posting titled: Researcher infects self with virus. In that instance, Dr Mark Gasson, a researcher at the University of Reading. introduced a virus into a computer chip implanted in his body.
Of course since 2010, there are additional implantable items such as computer chips and more making their way into our bodies and it doesn’t seem to be much public discussion (other than in popular culture) about the implications.
Presumably, there are policy makers tracking these developments. I have to wonder if the technology gurus will continue to tout these technologies as already here or having made such inroads that we (the public) are presented with a fait accompli with the policy makers following behind.