Leave Microchipping to Pets, Not Employees

By A.J. MacQuarrie

News reports that Wisconsin vending machine company Three Square Market will microchip employees are burning up social media today, and rightly so. The implanted $300 RFID microchips would let employees, perhaps desperate for a quick mid-afternoon Snickers bar, merely wave their hand in front of the lunchroom candy machine to get their pick-me-up.

Call me old fashioned, but implanting an electronic device under the skin should be reserved for medical procedures. Is saving five seconds really going to do much?

About the size of a grain of rice, the devices would be injected into the web of skin between a person’s thumb and index finger. They’re voluntary, and the company expects more than 50 employees will choose to get one on chip day, Aug. 1.

The company’s CEO envisions employees’ subdermal chips to eventually open the company’s doors, to activate the office copy machine, unlock workplace phones, log into employee’s computers, share business cards, and even store employee medical and health information.

The company makes a passing nod toward privacy concerns. Sure, the data will be encrypted as it flows from newly-enhanced humans to chip readers and, presumably, linked devices. And these chips aren’t GPS capable, so if an employee gets lost chasing squirrels in the park, these implants unfortunately can’t help quickly reunite him with his work family.

Joking aside, it’s a head-scratcher. Make no mistake, this technology isn’t about making things easier for vending machine customers. I run a vending company. People today already are as connected to their phones as they are to their hands — and modern vending machines come with electronic payment abilities, such as ApplePay, and quick credit card readers.

The chip is about making things easier for the company by collecting data. Lots of data. Hours could be tracked for productivity, waste and workflow (re: copier – “Your chip data tells us you were the person who didn’t replace the toner!”) A salesman is departing? Download all his leads. “One last thing, Mel. I also need to have the company chip back. Could you hand me that hole punch?”

How will the chip data be used – especially when it bleeds over into storing employee medical and health information? While “voluntary,” would an unchipped employee be penalized by paying a higher company insurance premium – just as people who decide to remain overweight and smoke tobacco often lose out on discounts given to those who join Weight Watchers or smoking cessation programs?

At what point will today’s voluntary persuasion become tomorrow’s do-this-or-forfeit-your-job coercion? What are the implications of labor laws regarding next week’s mildly-chipped employees – and should new laws be considered?

Plenty of effective, less-invasive technologies are used by businesses every day. Pass cards, key fobs and electronic ID cards are quite secure. Shipping companies are known to track their delivery drivers through their handheld scanners. Smart password management processes run by savvy IT managers can protect company computers. Maybe you could even chip an employee’s work uniform to get the same results as the implant.

Some biometric systems can be useful tools as long as they are strictly limited. My company, KarmaBox Vending, recently replaced our computer clock-in software with a fingerprint scanner, after some time theft via remote logins was uncovered. I also like to stay up-to-date with technology that increases the work experience for my employees, clients and business partners. For employees, the scanner takes a second and eliminates several steps on computer software every day. For the business, the employee can’t remotely tap their fingerprint on the reader – yet.

And one last note: If you look at a chip to grant employees permission to a locked copier, you have a management problem, not an access problem — and — surprise! — no technology can fix that for you.

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