Sometimes, a new innovation can sound a little scary. Even if it is using a well-established technology, such as RFID technology.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) chips have been around for years. They have been used for identification of vehicles, factory equipment, and they are built into plastic access cards for buildings.
The RFID application raising so many alarms for some people is about the size of a grain of rice. It is the same type of chip that has been used as identification chips for pets. Now, these same chips are being implanted into people—on a voluntary basis at some companies.
Before we move on, the goal of this article is not to advocate for, or against RFID implants, but to examine how a new technology has raised a lot of eyebrows and why.
Once chipped, the user can access buildings, RFID-enabled hardware such as printers. This is the case at the Swedish startup incubator, Epicenter. An Associated Press article, Patrick Mesterton says the biggest benefit is, convenience, and that employees can even have their credit card information loaded onto the chip.
For many people, it is easy to jump to the worst-case scenario rather than try to see any benefits. After all, microchips under the skin do sound like a sci-fi plotline.
Perhaps the two biggest criticisms of RFID technology chips in humans are that someone might hack the chip and steal all of the user’s data, or that the company will track every move an employee makes.
As far as theft goes, a person is not at any greater risk or necessarily safer with the RFID chip than without. Thieves can already steal credit card information just by walking close to the card with the right equipment. A credit card can also be left unattended, and be stolen, but the chip has to come with its owner no matter what. It is completely feasible that RFID information from an implanted chip is stolen in the same way.
As for companies monitoring employees every move, there are completely different ethics questions associated with this. An argument can also be made that a company that tracks its employees is probably not a group you want to work for. However, despite the concern, there is no evidence of this actually happening and it is unclear what the value would be.
There is no denying that there is a risk of getting one of these chips. However, there could be a lot of value in the practice.
Possible benefits of implanted chips could include identification of lost children. In a very real situation a lost toddler who may not be able to speak, either out of fear or other reasons. RFID identification information could allow police to help get the child back to their parents.
Medical information could be encoded into a chip to enable EMTs to help incapacitated patients. Cyclists use wristbands with their medical information for this exact reason already.
The merits of RFID technology implants will no doubt be debated for years to come, but what is important is understanding that new technologies are not always the scary dystopian things some headlines make them out to be.
At SGW Designworks, we like to study new uses of technology for this exact reason. Understanding the possible benefits as well as risks enables the user to avoid problems. This insight enables clients to make smart choices, and it allows our team to develop safe products.
After all, reducing risk is part of our job.