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When Employers Truly Get Under Your Skin

Michael O'Dwyer| October 05 2017

| security

Why would an employer consider biometric microchips for employees? 

Ever intent on finding news stories that serve only to annoy me, a recent one in the past few months on Wisconsin company Three Square Market inspired a bout of indiscriminate Irish swearing that raised eyebrows several blocks away. Almost. Still, it did raise several questions and as my long-suffering yet imaginary shrink recommended, I placed myself in the role of both the employer and employee at this company. Therefore, I could understand why the employee allowed a microchip insertion and why the employer felt it was a good idea? Unfortunately, my psyche rebelled on both counts.

How does this process aid company goals? What’s in it for the employee? What are the future HR and legal implications of being chipped?

The company claims that convenience is the reason for implanting microchips in employees. These volunteer employees will then be able to open doors that require ID cards, use copiers and pay for snacks from vending machines. In my opinion, an inability to remember cash, copier passwords and ID cards that needs solving with an embedded microchip points to a larger problem. If minor ‘surgery’ is the answer, then what is the question? Isn’t the concept a bit like cutting off your head to cure those pesky recurring headaches?

Granted, the company is involved in this area, providing tech for micro markets and vending machines, and the program attracted global media to the small town of River Falls. Mission accomplished, a marketing bonanza. I’d be interested in how many employees are still ‘chipped’ a year from now.

Related: 3 Reasons Biometrics Are Not Secure

The Employer Mindset

Given that I’ve no personal relationship with anyone at the company and cannot categorically speak to any individual’s state of mind or attitudes, let’s enter the world of the hypothetical. Why would an employer consider biometric microchips for employees?


Speaking as a former cubicle-dweller and office drone, most employees attempt to segregate work and personal life as much as possible. Does implanting a microchip aid this endeavor? Clue: not in the least. 99 times out of 100, employees carry a cellphone, which can easily perform the same functions as a chip implant. Alternatively, carrying cash and an employee ID is within the realms of possibility. If not, then such forgetfulness is likely to translate negatively when implementing company processes. Therefore, the convenience argument doesn’t hold weight.

A Desire to Be a Trendsetter

Some employers value this objective but it does depend on the permission of employees. If your company has a sufficient number of employees with calcium deficiencies in the spinal column, then it might be possible. Otherwise, I’d advise employers considering chipping employees to have a wide range of financial incentives available–a beach house, for example.

To Enhance Security

Unfortunately, biometrics are notoriously unreliable, whether speech, facial, retinal or fingerprint-based. There are hacks for all, some of which preclude the removal of body parts. In the case of microchips, they face the same issues as credit cards in that they can be cloned using specialized equipment. In addition, if your company is in a high-value or sensitive industry, what’s to prevent forcible removal of the chip?

Chip This!

If your employer decides to implement an employee ‘chipping’ program, would you be on board? I wouldn’t and I guess that’s no real surprise to readers. I have several reasons not least of which is the potential for abuse of privacy. Use of such a microchip allows tracking capability even if that tracking extends only to use of vending machines, doors and copiers. I value personal space and insertion of a chip…

RFID chips and tags are used extensively to track inventory and verify the ID of family pets or wildlife. I’ll not be tracked and tagged in such a manner, ever.

To guarantee inclusion in such a scheme, I’d need assurances that I’d gain enhanced abilities, like Wolverine’s claws or any other quality useful in future management meetings.

Another concern with such a scheme is liability. The company pays to insert the device under your skin. Who pays for medical treatment if the wound gets infected? Does the company now own a piece of your arm? When you leave the company, who pays to remove the microchip and restore your skin to its former pristine glory? If your chip is compromised (whether by cloning, removal or limb amputation) and is used to access company premises, are you responsible?

Related: 4 Important Factors Of Biometrics In Banking

I also notice that a medical professional is not necessary to install this chip and that a body piercing expert will suffice. That’s comforting. If we can choose where to place the chip, perhaps interfacing (allowing for the six-inch range of the chip) with smart condoms, tassels and suppositories are an additional benefit. Smart devices are all about convenience, right?
In conclusion, I’m against microchipping sentient beings. If your company needs to track employees in this manner or combat forgetfulness by inserting chips under the skin, then you need to evaluate your hiring policies. If all employees willingly volunteer, you still need to review your hiring policies, unless ‘yes-men’ and toadies are preferred. Alternatively, if you must incorporate employee microchips, I’d suggest a prosthetic butt mounted in the canteen at head height. With each employee having his/her chip imbedded in the tip of the nose, it’s an easy way to monitor performance.

In the meantime, if you must use RFID chips, why not use them to optimize your warehousing processes or even track inventory in the stationery cupboard? For all other uses, smartphones can perform the task and do a far better job of tracking everyone than embedded microchips ever will.

Topics: security

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An Irishman based in Hong Kong, Michael O’Dwyer is a business & technology journalist, independent consultant and writer who specializes in writing for enterprise, small business and IT audiences. With 20+ years of experience in everything from IT and electronic component-level failure analysis to process improvement and supply chains (and an in-depth knowledge of Klingon,) Michael is a sought-after writer whose quality sources, deep research and quirky sense of humor ensures he’s welcome in high-profile publications such as The Street and Fortune 100 IT portals.

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