Swedes have begun inserting microchips under their skin in droves, raising privacy concerns.
The chips are around the size of a grain of rice and are typically injected under the skin just above the user’s thumb. The procedure, which costs just $180, is relatively painless and in such high demand that companies have had trouble keeping up with requests.
The chips are designed to make day to day life easier by helping users complete daily tasks seamlessly.
The chips function as keys that permit entry into offices, gyms, homes, and events. The implants can also be used to store emergency contacts, social media, and health information and even function as credit cards and train tickets.
As of now, over 4,000 Swedes have had undergone the procedure. NPR reports that Biohax International, founded in 2013 by Jowan Osterlund, is the dominant provider of chips in Sweden.
“Having different cards and tokens verifying your identity to a bunch of different systems just doesn’t make sense,” Osterlund says to NPR. “Using a chip means that the hyper-connected surroundings that you live in every day can be streamlined.”
The demand is such that Osterlund plans to train Swedish doctors and nurses to ease the heavy workload. The implant’s high adoption rate in the Scandinavian nation speaks to the country’s keen interest in technology and large population of tech entrepreneurs who are willing to try out new innovations.
Ulrika Celsing uses her microchip to enter her office at media agency Mindshare with a simple wave of her hand.
“It was fun to try something new and to see what one could use it for to make life easier in the future,” she said to AFP.
Erik Frisk, a web developer, also decided to get a chip out of sheer curiosity.
“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 said to NPR.
Sweden’s national railway has also jumped on the bandwagon, implementing a microchip reservation service that makes boarding easier for passengers.
The implants leverage a telecommunications technology known as Near Field Communication (NFC), which enables them to passively store data that can be read by other devices, but does not allow them to read data themselves. The chips do not use energy and transmit their IDs passively to scanning devices. And now the trend is even beginning to take off in the U.S.
Of course, there are privacy and security concerns associated with the microchips but adopters argue that they are no more hackable than any other device and may even be somewhat safer because they’ve been injected under the skin.
Regardless, experts have begun urging the government to pay closer attention to the microchipping trend.
“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,” says Ben Libberton, a British scientist in Sweden.
If security concerns become more pressing, however, users always have the option of removing their chips.