Melissa Timmins has a week to decide: Does she keep her hand to herself, or does she let her employer microchip it?
The implant is the size of a grain of rice. It would slip under the skin between her forefinger and thumb. It would sting for only a second. Then she could unlock doors or log onto her computer with a wave. Her flesh could hold her credit card, her medical records, her passport . . .
“At first, I thought it was a joke,” she said.
Timmins, 46, works in sales at Three Square Market, a Wisconsin company that makes vending-machine software. The offer came after her boss returned from a business trip in Stockholm, where he encountered Biohax Sweden, a start-up that aims to endow body parts with technological power.
On Aug. 1, Three Square Market will throw a “chip party,” where employees can insert the $300 microchips, provided free from management. About 50 of 85 employees are expected to accept the company’s present. (Chips and salsa will be served.)
The Radio Frequency ID chips, as they’re called, could also function beyond the office. If Timmins got the implant, she could use it to buy snacks at shops or vending machines that support the technology.
People have long tagged pets. And businesses regularly use chips to track shipments. Implanting employees, however, still sounds like an idea out of science fiction.
Electronic-privacy advocates argue that trackable data is hackable data, and that someone, somewhere, could find a way to invade your privacy. Hand implants could also be miniature logs of comings and goings, or tiny purchase histories.
Tony Danna, Three Square Market’s vice president of international development, has no privacy concerns. He asked: Weren’t people worried about cellphones?
Last month, Danna, 28, visited Epicenter, the start-up hub home to Biohax Sweden, and met the brains behind the chips. A worker there was first chipped two years ago, and now about 150 employees have the implants.
“How do I get one of these chips in my hand right now?” Danna recalls wondering.
For him, the appeal is convenience.
“I don’t want to have to carry my wallet or passport or car keys,” he said.
Eventually, he added, the technology will be everywhere, and Three Market Square wants to be at the forefront. He said his company’s chip program will be the first in the United States.
Timmins, the sales associate, likes the idea of being first. Of beating the guys in Silicon Valley and New York City from River Falls, Wis. — population 15,000.
But she’s still on the fence, and not because she thinks her boss or some hacker could secretly track her. Phones these days, she said, already make that easy.
“I’m just concerned about implanting something into my body,” she said. “I’m thinking about infections. Then there’s the other side of me that thinks: This is exciting. Cutting-edge.”
Workplace dilemmas used to be less . . . corporeal. Do we join the union? Log hours from home? Enroll in that savings plan?
Timmins said she'll sleep on her chip decision for a night or seven. Then she'll go to the party, size up the syringes and make the call.