Microchip implants, now being offered to workers by some companies, do come with risks, but not the ones you might imagine.
The tiny bump on the back of Dave Williams’ hand is barely noticeable — most people would miss the rice-grain-sized lump between his thumb and forefinger at first. It is only when the 33-year-old opens his front door with a wave of his hand that it becomes clear something strange is going on.
Embedded under Williams’ skin is a microchip implant — an electronic circuit inside a pill-shaped glass capsule — that can be used much like a contactless credit card.
Williams, a systems engineer at software firm Mozilla, is one of a growing number of so-called “biohackers” who are choosing to augment their bodies with technology. In Williams’ case, he chose to implant a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip into his hand out of curiosity.
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The procedure has essentially turned him into a walking contactless smart card. By registering the tag with a variety of devices, he can use it to trigger certain functions, such as transferring his contact details to a friend’s mobile phone.
Another level of convenience
“I have the world’s worst memory,” says Williams. The fact that he now has a gadget on him at all times that opens doors and unlocks his computer — one that he can’t leave at home or forget — is a huge advantage. “It’s also fun to give someone my number and email address by touching their phone to my hand.”
This new level of convenience is one of the biggest draws for those installing implantable RFID implants, and the number of people experimenting with the devices is growing. One manufacturer of the chips, Dangerous Things, told CNBC last year that it had sold more than 10,000 of them, along with the kits needed to install them under the skin. But as they become more widespread, concerns are growing about what the trend might mean for personal privacy and security.
The tech is nothing new
“It is pretty easy to pick up this kind of information on a person without an implant,” says Kevin Warwick, a professor of cybernetics and deputy vice-chancellor at Coventry University, who became one of the first people in the world to have an RFID chip surgically implanted into his forearm in 1998.