Microchips get under the skin of Swedes

Replaces keys, credit cards, train tickets

May 13, 2018 08:50 pm | Updated 11:25 pm IST - Stockholm

A man reacts as he gets a chip implant in his hand in Epicenter, a technological hub in Stockholm.

A man reacts as he gets a chip implant in his hand in Epicenter, a technological hub in Stockholm.

It’s the size of a grain of rice but could hold the key to many aspects of your life.

A tiny microchip inserted under the skin can replace the need to carry keys, credit cards and train tickets. That might sound like an Orwellian nightmare to some but in Sweden it is a welcome reality for a growing number who favours convenience over concerns of potential personal data violations.

The small implants were first used in 2015 in Sweden — initially confidentially — and several other countries. Swedes have gone on to be very active in microchipping, with scant debate about issues surrounding its use, in a country keen on new technology and where the sharing of personal information is held up as a sign of a transparent society.

Ulrika Celsing, 28, is one of 3,000 Swedes to have injected a microchip into her hand to try out a new way of life. To enter her workplace, the media agency Mindshare, she simply waves her hand on a small box and types in a code before the doors open. “It was fun to try something new and to see what one could use it for to make life easier in the future,” she said.

In the past year, the chip has turned into a kind of electronic handbag and has even replaced her gym card, she said. If she wanted to, she could also use it to book train tickets. Sweden’s SJ national railway company has won over some 130 users to its microchip reservation service in a year. Conductors scan passengers’ hands after they book tickets online and register them on their chip.

Information sharing

Sweden has a track record on the sharing of personal information, which may have helped ease the microchip’s acceptance among the Nordic country’s 10 million-strong population.

However, for Ben Libberton, a microbiologist working for MAX IV Laboratory, which provides X-rays for research, the danger is real. The chip implants could cause “infections or reactions of the immune system”, he warned.

At an “implant party” organised by Osterlund in Stockholm, Anders Brannfors, 59, stands out with his salt-and-pepper hair among the curious 30-something hipsters. Delighted to have become a 2.0 version of himself, he has yet to find a use for his chip several weeks after the implant.

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