Wisconsin Company Offers to Put RFID Chips in Employees’ Bodies

[Updated 7/26/17 10:51 a.m. See below.] Why store information on a thumb drive when you can store it directly in your thumb?

Three Square Market, a River Falls, WI-based company that helps clients equip their offices with miniature stores that offer more variety and convenience than vending machines, says it recently offered employees the opportunity to have microchips implanted in their bodies.

The chips, which are about the size of a grain of rice, would allow employees to perform everyday tasks like unlocking doors and logging into their work computers. They would also be able to buy food, beverages, and other items at the company’s own “micro market” using the chips, Three Square Market says.

The company reportedly has about 80 employees. More than 50 of them have already volunteered to be chipped, Three Square Market says. Some of them will receive their implants on Aug. 1, as part of a “chip party” held at the company’s headquarters.

The chips Three Square Market is offering to its workers are implanted between the thumb and index finger, the company says, and the procedure is complete in a matter of seconds. Removing a chip is also a quick and easy process, says Tony Danna, vice president of international sales at Three Square Market. [Updated with information from Three Square Market about removing microchips.]

“You would push it out like a splinter,” Danna says.

The actual implantations will be done by the Swedish company BioHax International, according to a Gizmodo report. Three Square Market says it met BioHax through groups it works with in Sweden, and later enlisted the company as a partner on the microchip project. BioHax already has many “chipped employees” on staff, Danna says.

The chips use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. That’s the same type of signal payment terminals with chip readers use when processing credit and debit card transactions, and in tagging a wide array of products and merchandise. (See prior Xconomy coverage of RFID technology, including Seattle-based Impinj (NASDAQ: PI), which labored for years to develop more conventional markets and went public in 2016.)

Todd Westby, CEO of Three Square Markets, envisions implanted chips and RFID technology someday being used for things outside the walls of a single organization.

“Eventually, this technology will become standardized, allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit [payment, and for] all purchasing opportunities,” Westby says in a prepared statement.

Westby says microchips might also someday be used to store medical and health data. In order for that to happen, the information would need to be stored securely and in a way that’s compliant with HIPAA, a federal law that regulates the use, disclosure, and transmission of protected patient health information.

Where Westby sees endless possibilities, others might see cause for concern. While the chips reportedly do not have GPS capabilities, the fact that they can communicate with employees’ computers might allow companies to monitor how much time they’re spending at their desks—or taking breaks for lunch or to use the bathroom. (Privacy is certainly an issue to be addressed by sensor-tech companies such as Humanyze.)

Lots of people, even non-tech geeks, now feel comfortable walking around with electronic devices on them all day—think of the wearable bands sold by Fitbit (NYSE: FIT) and other companies. But whether wearables will some day give way to “implantables” remains an open—and, to many people, alarming—question. Leave it to an until-now unknown Wisconsin company to amplify the discussion.

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