Technology continues to advance at an exponential rate. With that unprecedented growth, technology continues to grow closer and closer to our bodies. As a society, we have become reliant on our smartphones and smartwatches. Now, technology is getting under people’s skin.
In Sweden, thousands of individuals have had microchips inserted into their hands. Ideally, the chips are designed to make daily life more convenient. The chips have the capability to access homes, offices, and gyms with a simple swipe of the individual’s hand.
However, that’s not all they are capable of. Just as smartphones have made daily life accessibility more convenient in our instant gratification society, the chips can also be used to store emergency contact information, social media profiles and event tickets.
Advocates of the microchips claim that they are relatively safe, both in terms of physiology and privacy, but detractors insist that these reported privacy claims are dubious at best. Rather, they claim that personal health information stored on the devices might not be as secure as it seems.
In the past few years, there have been several instances of private health information breaches-- incidents that have led to massive public disapproval and litigation.
The chip is extremely small. It is approximately the size of a grain of rice and is embedded in the thumb of the user. The chip retails for around $180.
More than 4,000 Swedes currently have the chip. One company, Biohax International, is dominating the market, led by Jowan Osterlund.
"Having different cards and tokens verifying your identity to a bunch of different systems just doesn't make sense. Using a chip means that the hyper-connected surroundings that you live in every day can be streamlined,” says Osterlund.
Some early adopters of the technology were skeptical at first. One such individual is Erik Frisk, a web developer and designer. After getting the chip in 2014, Frisk has determined that it has been a success in his personal life.
"It's just completely passive, it has no energy source or anything. So when you tap it against a reader, the chip sends back an ID that tells the reader which chip it is. Swedes are very pragmatic and the chip is useful ... and since a lot of people know each other in the tech community — it's very tight — [the trend has] been spreading and people have seen the benefits," Frisk says.
Osterlund asserts that there are two major reasons that the microchips have been successful in Sweden. First, Sweden is a country that has historically embraced new technologies.
"The more you hear about technology, the more you learn about technology, the less apprehensive you get about technology," Osterlund says.
The second reason is that thanks to a high level of trust for institutions and banks, Swedes are much less likely to worry about potential data breaches- the kind of data breaches that are becoming a regular occurance in the United States. Swedes are used to sharing personal information.
Despite a few vocal critics, Osterlund is confident in the technology. "Everything is hackable. But the reason to hack them will never be bigger because it's a microchip. It's harder for someone to get to, since you put it in you," he says.
That said, there is no current national legislation to regulate the technology. One of those vocal critics, Ben Libberton, a British Scientist, is starting a campaign to pressure lawmakers to increase oversight for the microchip technology.
"What is happening now is relatively safe. But if it's used everywhere, if every time you want to do something and instead of using a card you use your chip, it could be very, very easy to let go of [personal] information," he says.