Swedes OK with microchips under skin to form cashless society

Jowan Osterlund holds a microchip implant in Stockholm in 2017. His company, Biohax International, is a leading provider of the devices in Sweden. James Brooks/AP

Despite numerous instances around the world of data being hacked and stolen from major corporations, as well as secret spying software being built into consumer electronic devices, people in Sweden are having microchips placed under the skin of their hands to speed their access to bank accounts, homes, offices and gyms.

The chips can also be used to store emergency contact information, social media profiles or e-tickets for events and rail journeys within Sweden. They can be read by simply waving a hand over an electronic reader.

Apparently trusting strongly in government to stay out of their business as well as maintain cybersecurity, proponents of the chips say they’re safe and largely secure from being hacked. One scientist is raising privacy concerns around the kind of personal health information that might be stored on the chips.

Around the size of a grain of rice, the chips typically are inserted into the skin just above each user’s thumb using a syringe. The insertion costs about $180. So many people in Sweden want the chips that the country’s main supplier says it can’t keep up with demand.

Thousands of Swedes have adopted the technology, with the company Biohax International dominating the market. The firm was started five years ago by a former professional body piercer.

“The chip basically solves my problems,” says Szilvia Varszegi, 28, who also uses it to get into her workplace.

She uses it to share her LinkedIn details at networking events, avoiding the need to spell out her name. She simply touches another attendee’s smartphone and the information is transferred. “When another phone reads the chip, they see the [link] and they can open it in the phone browser,” Varszegi explains. Sweden’s largest train company has started allowing commuters to use chips instead of tickets, and there’s talk that the chips could soon be used to make payments in shops and restaurants.

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