US company to micro-chip workers

An American company is offering to microchip its employees, enabling them to open doors, log on to their computers and buy break room snacks with a simple swipe of the hand.

Three Square Market, also known as 32M, said more than 50 employees are voluntarily getting implants at what the company is calling a “chip party” at its River Falls headquarters in Wisconsin. The chips are the size of a grain of rice and are inserted underneath the skin between the thumb and forefinger using a syringe. The procedure takes a couple of seconds.

The technology is already available in Europe but company leaders say this is its first appearance in the US. They hope the $US300 microchips can eventually be used on more than just snack machines – everything from air travel, public transit and storing medical information.

While the technology has raised privacy concerns because of the potential to track a person’s whereabouts and purchases, officials at 32M said the data in the microchip is encrypted and does not use GPS. But a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee said he worries about the potential for “function creep”, where the stated purpose of a technology ends up spilling over into other uses, including surveillance.

“This is one of those technologies that sound like it might create some kind of efficiency, but to me the downside is just too great,” said Michael Zimmer, who teaches internet ethics and privacy at the college’s School of Information Studies.

Zimmer said what 32M is trying to achieve can be done through less invasive means, like with an iPhone app.

“Part of my general concern is that we don’t go too fast and that we understand the implications of these sorts of (technologies), which is why it’s good we’re having this conversation,” he said.

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