I'm Not Ready for RFID chips for People
By now, many of you have begun fiddling with some new electronic gadget that Santa left under the tree. How’s it going? Is it everything you expected, or are you overwhelmed?
Adopting new technology isn’t for everyone. According to our 22nd annual Capital Equipment Spending Survey, just 13 percent of manufacturers are willing to be on the leading edge when adopting new technology, but 40 percent are willing to be early leaders. Twenty-six percent prefer to wait until others successfully use it, while 21 percent are likely to be among the last to use it.
Personally, I tend to wait. As a photographer, I was among the last to make the switch to digital. I learned the craft in the ’80s with an old, Pentax single-lens reflex camera. Because film was expensive and all the camera functions had to be set manually, I had to think about what I was doing before I snapped the shutter. Now, I’m all-in on digital photography. Its advantages are obvious, though I often find myself shooting first and thinking later.
Here’s another technology I’ll wait on: A Wisconsin company has begun offering implantable radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for people. About the size of a grain of rice, the RFID tag is injected between the thumb and index finger.
The company, Three Square Market, sees enormous potential for the technology. For example, the tag could act as an electronic key card. Or, it could store your credit card information, enabling you to make purchases with the swipe of your hand. (Three Square also makes equipment for automated vending.) The tag could also store your medical information. If you were unable to answer questions about, say, the prescription medications you were taking, doctors could obtain the information by scanning your tag. Healthcare facilities could use the system to limit access to narcotics and other medications.
Each tag is encrypted with a one-of-a-kind serial number. To use the tag, you must place your hand within 6 inches of an RFID reader. The device will then read your encrypted serial number and associate that number with the function you are requesting.
More than half of Three Square’s 80 employees have already volunteered to get the chip, which costs around $300.
Critics of the technology raise privacy concerns. For instance, they fear the technology could be used to track employees without their knowledge or consent. They also worry that hackers could get access to sensitive information.
Todd Westby, the chief executive of Three Square, emphasizes that the chip’s capabilities are limited. As a passive device, it can only provide data when data is requested. It is not designed to track people. Indeed, Westby points out that our smartphones report much more personal data than his RFID chip.
I’m sure he’s right. Nevertheless, the idea of having an RFID tag implanted in me seems a little too Orwellian just now. I’ll pass on these chips.