Biometric Technology: More Than Meets The Microchip?

If you’ve ever seen a sci-fi movie (or any episode of Black Mirror for that matter) then you will be familiar with the concept of a future reality where wonderfully advanced technology helps (and hinders) human society.

As it turns out, that reality may be a lot less distant than originally anticipated.

Three Squared Market–or 32M as they are also known–a tech company based in Wisconsin, USA has made headlines after they held a ~chip party~ for their employees. Sounds like a good time, right? Chips are great!

Disappointingly, however, they were not chips of the potato persuasion. Rather, the party was an opportunity for employees to be micro-chipped with an RFID implant. Yes, you read that correctly; a totally reasonable and not at all unsettling celebration.

They even had ‘I Got Chipped’ merch, people!

Apparently, Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow (the Sydney man who implanted an Opal card chip into his hand, in case your memory needs refreshing) was ahead of the curve.

In a video shared to Facebook it is revealed that the chip allows employees to access company property, log onto computers, and buy food. Call me crazy, but these are all tasks that I feel pretty confident can be completed sans microchip.

While 32M employees were micro-chipped of their own volition (30 out of 80 staff chose to forego the procedure) it does raise a lot of interesting questions about the future of this technology.

Microchip or mark of the beast?

I’m not going to lie when I first heard about this I thought it was a self-aware commentary on the ways that humans are too reliant on, and also very ~attached~ to technology–a prank meant to go viral and fool the public en masse at the very least. But no, this is a real thing.

Maybe it’s the technophobe in me (it took me an embarrassingly long time to embrace pay pass and I’m still not 100 percent sold on the ~cloud~) but this genuinely scared me. You would catch me dead before I willingly implanted anything of the sort into my ACTUAL. REAL. BODY.

For the most part my concerns were reiterated in the comment section,

In a strange turn of events parallels were made between microchip technology and the Bible. Revelations 13: 16-18 discusses a rise in humans who possess the ‘mark of the beast’ – a symbol or number that has been imprinted on the hands (or forehead) of those who give their allegiance to a governmental system headed by an evil human dictator. However, if you own a mobile phone or credit card it may be safe to argue that you’re already marked.

Similarly, concerns that microchips impinge on basic human rights and will lead to a totalitarian future where those deemed ‘unworthy’ will have their chips turned off; leaving them unable to access society, have also run rampant.

Yikes.

This reaction makes a lot of sense when you consider the Survey of American Fears conducted by Chapman University. Three of the top five fears–cyber terrorism, corporate tracking of personal information, and government tracking of personal information–were technology related while technology as a whole was the second biggest fear behind natural disasters.

Christopher Bader, a professor of sociology and co-author of the study pretty much summed it up. “People tend to express the highest level of fear for things that they’re dependent on but that they have no control over, and that’s almost a perfect definition of technology.

Three sides to every story,

32M CEO, Todd Westby, was quick to denounce the doubts and budding conspiracy theories stating, “All it is, is an RFID chip reader. It’s not a GPS tracking device and can only give data when data is requested. Nobody can track you with it. Your cellphone does 100 times more reporting of data than does an RFID chip.”

RFID, which stands for Radio Frequency Identification Device, is a technology that encodes digital data, allowing a reader to capture it via radio waves. According to 32M each device, which is implanted between the thumb and forefinger, is encrypted with a one-of-a-kind serial number that is programmed to a variety of functions.  In order to use the chip it needs to be placed within 6 inches of a scanner using near-field communications technology like the ones found in credit cards and mobile payments.

Is Mr. Westby right, though? Should we be worried about a microchip when our personal data is constantly being sent off to different companies and databases through our mark of the beast handheld devices? Alessandro Acquisti, a professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College believes that we should. He says, “a microchip implanted today to allow for easy access to buildings could potentially be used in more invasive ways later on without the employee’s knowledge or consent.” This has been lowkey (kinda, not really, but maybe) confirmed by 32M who said they hope to expand the microchip’s capabilities.

According to 32M’s website this would include: maintaining I.D. and other personal information, such as medical records, without fear of misplacement or theft; automating home utilities; and to combat kidnapping and human trafficking.F

Security versus privacy,

While 32M have ensured that their microchips are secure, Thad Starner, director of the Contextual Computing Group, raises the point that privacy and security are ultimately two incredibly different things. Where security is the protection of information from unauthorised users; privacy is the individual’s right to control the collection and use of their personal information. He states these technologies create cradle-to-grave surveillance and simultaneously annihilate all concept of personal privacy.

Similarly, Professor Acquisti revealed that while companies claim these technologies to be secure and encrypted; they are actually pretty vague terms which can mean anything from truly secure to easily hackable.

Call it a moral panic,

While I do believe there are some genuine reasons for concern in regards to data collection, privacy, and policy where microchips are being implanted into human bodies–it isn’t the first time there has been an intense moral panic surrounding new technology.

Brett Lamb, media educator and writer, shares that a moral panic is any widespread anxiety about an issue that is deemed to threaten the fabric of society. It seems that people have always, and will continue to be, deeply suspicious of new media and technologies.

Cinema, radio, comic books, video games, the Internet, even dungeons and dragons have all experienced the heat of a moral panic. Heck, even Socrates thought that writing things down was a sign that the end was near.

Most recently, SnapChat came under fire for purportedly helping the FBI to build a facial recognition database with its ‘lenses’ feature. A claim that has been refuted by SnapChat, but has resurfaced thanks to the applications newest update; allowing users to pinpoint the precise location of their friends down to the street number.

However, as long as individuals are gaining they will generally part with a little bit of information voluntarily. It is only when they stop gaining and start blatantly being taken advantage of that panic occurs.

The future is now,

This isn’t the first instance of Biometric information technology being implemented across businesses, and in humans.

A Swedish rail company, SJ, offers passengers the option to use micro-chip technology instead of paper tickets (who’s laughing now Sydney council); while European bank, TSB, announced its implementation of iris recognition technology through its mobile app. Even 32M’s partner-in-chip, Epicentre, have simplified the lives of more than 150 employees with a little help from microchip implants.

So, will microchip technology become as commonplace as books, mobile phones and the radio? Ony time will tell.

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