A company implanting microchips in its employees says it’s not to track them

The type of microchip that employees at a Wisconsin company will embed in their fingers is about as big as a grain of rice.
The type of microchip that employees at a Wisconsin company will embed in their fingers is about as big as a grain of rice.
Image: AP Photo/James Brooks
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A majority of employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, have volunteered to embed a rice-sized chip in their bodies that allow them to swipe into the building or pay for food in the cafeteria as if their hands were key cards.

Three Square Market is believed to be the first US company to offer embedded chips to employees (the Swedish company Epicenter already offers them to its workers). Over the last decade, the office has become a target market for all sorts of gadgets and software that some might call Orwellian. Companies make badges that collect anonymized data about how employees communicate, light bulbs that track office movements, and software that keeps tabs on who is likely to be looking for a job.

The microchips reportedly feel like a needle going in and like a sliver coming out.

Three Square Market has said that its RFID chips won’t be used to track employees. “Your cellphone does 100 times more reporting of data than does an RFID chip,” Todd Westby, the company’s CEO, told the New York Times. But that doesn’t mean that the technology can’t be used to keep tabs on employee movements.

RFID tags are essentially smart bar codes, used, for instance, to verify the authenticity of luxury clothing or identify runaway pets. While they don’t actively transmit a location the way that a phone might, they can track how objects move using RFID scanners. Manufacturers and warehouses use RFID tags to track inventory as it moves through the supply chain, and athletic competitions use them to time individuals runners during races as they pass checkpoints equipped with RFID readers.

These capabilities create new questions about privacy as embedding chips into employees becomes more prevalent. Other prominent types of workplace software could soon be used by bosses to spy on their employees.

The FDA approved the use of embedded RFID tags in health care in 2004, while enthusiasts have been embedding chips into their hands for at least three years. ”This is a fun thing, a conversation starter,” bio-hacker Hannes Sjoblad, who has recruited others to embed chips in their hands, told the BBC in 2014. “It opens up interesting discussions about what it means to be human. This is not just for opening doors.”