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Are RFID subdermal chips the future for global transactions?

For most of us, the shocks of technological advancement in shows such as Black Mirror are restricted to our TV screens. However for those living in Sweden, one particular technological advancement has become reality, with a recent increase in RFID Subdermal chip implants.

RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) has been around for decades. Some sources have established its roots in WWII, when it was used to identify approaching planes. The move to humans is said to have taken place in 1998, under trials by British scientist Kevin Warwick. Subsequently, it has been tested, trialled and improved by many hobbyists, scientists and companies. The chip, as the definition suggests, now stores details in a database regarding personal identification. This includes information regarding law enforcement and medical history.

Over 3000 Swedes have taken to injecting this tiny rice-sized chip into the skin between their thumb and forefinger

Since the introduction of the RFID chip in 2015, over 3000 Swedes have taken to injecting this tiny rice-sized chip into the skin between their thumb and forefinger. The chip has replaced office keys, gym cards and even rail tickets. Swedes will never face the problem of leaving the home without essentials again. It even appears that some Swedish companies, such as the digital start-up Epicentre in Stockholm, have been offering to pay for its employees to have the chip put in. The company funded the chips so that workers could conveniently open doors, buy drinks and use printers in the office with ease.

The gains from this new identification chip are not merely restricted to these small perks which make life a little easier. There is also research to suggest that RFID could help hugely in diminishing the impact of identity fraud, which currently costs the UK around £190 billion per year. With no cards, or passports or physical identity cards, the ability to commit identity fraud becomes significantly harder, according to defenders of the chip.

[Sweden’s] clear disposition to openness about personal details is not something that is mimicked globally

But can the success of this chip in Sweden be translated globally, changing the world for all future financial transactions? Or does this seem a little too Orwellian for us to adopt?

Swedes seem to have taken to this new technology like a duck to water, but this is likely due to an open culture within the country, where sharing personal details is not a big concern. Prior to the introduction of these chips, personal details were already readily accessible. For example, details such as salaries could be found by simply calling the tax authorities. This level of trust and a clear disposition to openness about personal details is not something that is mimicked globally.

If we take the UK for example, we see a much more private culture. The UK has seen companies such as Tesco trial the RFID chip on products, which can be tracked into a person’s home. Despite this being trialled on a very small percentage of products and stores, it faced huge backlash. If we do not want the chip on our shopping, it seems unlikely that we would want it implanted within us.

Yes, many of us have already given our data to big corporations […] but the RFID chip may be one step too far.

Yes, many of us have already given our data to big corporations such as Amazon, or Apple, through iPhones or other devices – but the RFID chip may be one step too far. For now, there are restrictions on how much our phones can track our exact locations. Also, mobile phones do not have the ability to collect intimate data on our bodies, exact movements or habits. The RFID chip can do all of this and more. Could we see a world where insurance companies would be able to access data about every detail of our health from a chip? A world where the government could track our exact location? A world where a hacker only needs to hack one single chip, to find out every single detail about yourself and your life?

In a global economy that uses technological advancements to enhance convenience for consumers, the RFID chip is a move in the right direction. A logical next step from our smart watches and Apple wallets. It seems, however, that the RFID chip is a double-edged sword. It furthers financial convenience whilst sacrificing privacy, and the trade-off between the two may just be too high for it to be the future of financial transactions.

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