Fifteen years ago, the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona innovated and introduced a sub-dermal micro-chip as a payment instrument. The chip was offered to VIP members and was linked to a pre-paid account from which customers could pay for their drinks. At the time, the club had gained considerable interest from international media as well as the payments’ community. The participants of a famous Spanish TV reality show all agreed to get chipped, creating a huge media buzz around the idea.
A few other bars and clubs followed but needless to say, sub-dermal chips have not become a mainstream payment method. However, more recently in Sweden some people are signing up to the idea.
4,000 Swedes have agreed to get chipped
The New York Post reports that more than 4,000 Swedes have inserted microchips under the skin, allowing them to pay for their day-to-day expenses. Rail travel, food, entering keyless offices or gyms are now easy to access with a swipe of a hand. Sweden’s entire national rail network is now biochip-capable and so are the 172 gyms run by Nordic Wellness where, gym members and staff can unlock lockers and view their exercise profiles on monitors using their hands.
The microchips were pioneered by body piercer Jowan Österlund who claims that that he’s been contacted by interested investors on every continent with the exception of Antarctica: “Tech will move into the body,” he says, “I am sure of that.”
While some hail the convenience of micro-chips, there are significant short and long-term implications. First, it is safe to say that walking with microchips in place is unknown territory and we still do not know the effects they will have on the body long-term or the societal effects they may incur. Second, allowing companies and institutions to scan your chip for identification has raised privacy concerns especially access of control. Last but not least, data leaks are always an area of concern and a potential target for hackers.
It is worth noting than the Radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips are easier to insert than to remove. In 2004, CNN journalist Robyn Curnow was implanted with a sub-dermal RFID chip at the Barcelona Baja Beach Club and then had it removed. The removal procedure required two doctor consultations, an X-ray and surgery. She has an 8 mm scar as a reminder of this unique payment experience – so much for frictionless payments?