Cy­ber staff: Wis­con­sin com­pany of­fers to mi­crochip over 50 of its em­ploy­ees

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - BY IVAN MORENO

“We want to be on the fore­front of this. This is some­thing’s that’s com­ing.’’ Curt Giles, pres­i­dent at 32M

A Wis­con­sin com­pany is of­fer­ing to mi­crochip its em­ploy­ees, en­abling them to open doors, log onto their com­put­ers and pur­chase 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 Aug. 1 at what the com­pany is call­ing a “chip party” at its River Falls head­quar­ters. 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 U.S. They hope the $300 mi­crochips can even­tu­ally be used on more than just snack ma­chines - ev­ery­thing from air travel, public tran­sit and stor­ing med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion.

“We want to be on the fore­front of this. This is some­thing’s that’s com­ing,” said Curt Giles, pres­i­dent at 32M, which op­er­ates 2,000 self-check­out kiosks for com­pa­nies in 20 coun­tries. The com­pany is part­ner­ing with Swe­den’s BioHax In­ter­na­tional, where em­ploy­ees have been us­ing the im­plants. Three Square Mar­ket is pay­ing for the em­ploy­ees’ mi­crochips.

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.

Giles and other com­pany ex­ec­u­tives say they’re hav­ing mi­crochips im­planted them­selves next week but un­der­stand em­ploy­ees who don’t want to do it. About 85 peo­ple work at 32M.

“We have em­ploy­ees who have said, ‘I just don’t want to do it.’ And we 100 per cent re­spect that,” said Tony Danna, vice-pres­i­dent of in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment. Danna said the mi­crochips can be eas­ily re­moved in sec­onds, “just as if you were tak­ing a sliver out of your fin­ger.”

The com­pany is us­ing the mi­crochips in-house for now but other or­ga­ni­za­tions have ex­pressed in­ter­est in re­cent days, in­clud­ing a hos­pi­tal chain, said Pa­trick McMul­lan, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer. He said he could not re­veal the names of those who have ex­pressed in­ter­est.

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