Thursday, August 3, 2017

Would you let your employer microchip you?

Our family dog, Loula, is microchipped. Our vet offered it to us as a service when Loula first joined our family. It provides some peace of mind in the sad event that Loula goes missing and ends up in a shelter or vet office. They would be able to read the rice-grain RFID chip embedded in her leg, discover that she belonged to us, and return her.

Loula, however, is a dog, she’s not an employee. Which is why I’m troubled that a Wisconsin employer has decided to offer microchip implants as a “service” to its employees.

From The New York Times:
On Aug. 1, employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, can choose to have a chip the size of a grain of rice injected between their thumb and index finger. Once that is done, any task involving RFID technology — swiping into the office building, paying for food in the cafeteria — can be accomplished with a wave of the hand.
There is nothing illegal about this practice. Employees are providing their consent to the procedure, the implant is 100 percent voluntary, and is reasonably safe. Indeed, 50 out of Three Square Market’s 80 employees volunteers for the implant, an astonishingly positive response.

But, if you ask me, chipping employees sure is creepy. No matter the current intent, it’s just a tad too Orwellian for my taste. Or, if you don’t believe me, ask Alessandro Acquisti, professor of information technology and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, like The New York Times did:
Another potential problem, Dr. Acquisti said, is that technology designed for one purpose may later be used for another. A microchip implanted today to allow for easy building access and payments could, in theory, be used later in more invasive ways: to track the length of employees’ bathroom or lunch breaks, for instance, without their consent or even their knowledge. 
“Once they are implanted, it’s very hard to predict or stop a future widening of their usage,” Dr. Acquisti said.
Today’s cafeteria payments are tomorrow’s location tracking. Microchips are for dogs, not employees. Let’s keep it that way.