Microchips get under the skin of tech-savvy Swedes

A syringe being used to implant a chip into a customer's hand on Jan 18 at Epicenter, a technological hub in Stockholm. The chip can be used in place of keys, business cards and train tickets.
A syringe being used to implant a chip into a customer's hand on Jan 18 at Epicenter, a technological hub in Stockholm. The chip can be used in place of keys, business cards and train tickets.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ulrika Celsing is one of 3,000 Swedes to have a microchip injected 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 told Agence France-Presse.

NOVELTY

It was fun to try something new and to see what one could use it for to make life easier in the future.

MS ULRIKA CELSING, one of 3,000 Swedes to have a microchip injected into her hand.

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.

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.

Citizens have long accepted the sharing of their personal details, registered by the social security system, with other administrative bodies, while anyone can find out other people's salaries through a quick phone call to the tax authority.

The implants use near field communication technology, also used in credit cards, and are "passive", which means they hold data that can be read by other devices but cannot read information themselves.

However, for Mr Ben Libberton, a microbiologist working for MAX IV Laboratory, which provides X-rays for research in the southern city of Lund, the danger is real.

"At the moment, the data collected and shared by implants is small, but it's likely that this will increase," the researcher said.

He is worried that "the more data is stored in a single place, as could happen with a chip, the more risk it could be used against us".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2018, with the headline 'Microchips get under the skin of tech-savvy Swedes'. Print Edition | Subscribe