Privacy is important in more than one way. It helps individuals maintain their autonomy and individuality. It’s an essential buffer that gives us space to develop our identity without surveillance or judgment from our society and culture. Privacy is crucial for helping us manage all of these pressures, and to leave space for our self-development. The private garden we keep to ourselves or share only within a circle of friends and loved ones is necessary for a healthy social and emotional balance.
But it seems that over the last decades, our privacy has been attacked on all fronts. While microchip implants still seemed to belong only in sci-fi novels, other devices have already begun to undermine our privacy. Everything we do and everywhere we go, we leave a trail of data that reveals private details about our life. We are videotaped by cameras at intersections, our computer sends data about our interests and behaviors to the websites we visit, and our cellphone is probably the most intimate tracking device ever invented.
But a startup hub in Stockholm has gone a step further. Epicenter, a Swedish work center, home to more than 100 companies and 2,000 employees, offers Microchip implants to its workers to replace swipe cards. And amazingly, people love it. Just by the wave of a hand, they can open doors, operate printers and buy snacks at the cafeteria.
“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.” Convenience, sure, but at what price?
The technology is not new. Microchips are already used in pet collars, and companies use them for deliveries, but implanting microchips in humans is a step towards a future looking more Orwellian by the minute.
This implant uses NFC — Near Field Communication — technology, meaning that it is activated by devices that can read the information it contains. And while the device is biologically safe, it doesn’t feel especially safe for our privacy. Mesterton insists that the device cannot be tracked or collects data without authorization, but for how long? Already, the data the implant generates can show when an employee comes to work, for how long, when they go to the gym and what they buy.
Maybe in a few years, the CEO of Epicenter will be able to know where his employees are at any time, or how many times they took a break. The possibilities of such a device go way farther than the most sophisticated smartphone. Being implanted in your body, you cannot be separated from it, and it could conceivably get data about your health and your whereabouts at any time. We cannot ignore the strong ethical dilemmas that microchip implants raise.
Epicenter began implanting workers in January 2015. Now, about 150 workers have them. A company based in Belgium also offers its employees such implants, and there are isolated cases around the world where this technology has been tried in recent years.