Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chip in the old block

I remember the first place where I had to punch in using a time card: H.H. Brown Shoe Company, where I worked one summer on the shop floor helping make paratroop boots for the South Vietnamese Air Force (tiny feet) and chartreuse work boots with red top stitching for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (The thought was that no one would walk out accidentally wearing footwear of such a zany color. This was just as psychedelic Yellow Submarine clothing was coming into style, after which point chartreuse work boots with red top stitching no longer seemed quite so zany.) As I recall, you’d get docked 15 minutes if you were late by 1 minute. On Friday afternoons, the factory workers would gather by the time clock a few minutes before punch-out time at 4 p.m. Once the magic moment occurred, we’d all punch out as rapidly as we could – old tmers at the front of the line.Unless overtime had been declared, there was absolutely no reason to have a few extra minutes on the clock.

I remember the first place I worked where we were issued electronic badges. To use the rest room, you had to leave our space – and, unless you were willing to walk around to the reception desk and get back in that way, you needed your badge to get back to your office. There was copious grousing about lack of privacy, and about whether “they” were going to start monitor our bio breaks. That was 20 years ago. I’m guessing that, these days, there are very few companies that don’t use some sort of electronic badging system and, at least theoretically, have the ability to check all sorts of goings and comings among their workforce.

There are flaws to electronic badging – who hasn’t borrowed a colleague’s badge at some point – and, for extra security, some companies added biometrics to the fray, with retinal scans or fingerprints.

At least one place is taking things one step further, with pet-style chips for their employees.

On Aug. 1, employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, can choose to have a chip the size of a grain of rice injected between their thumb and index finger. Once that is done, any task involving RFID technology — swiping into the office building, paying for food in the cafeteria — can be accomplished with a wave of the hand. The program is not mandatory, but as of Monday, more than 50 out of 80 employees at Three Square’s headquarters in River Falls, Wis., had volunteered. (Source: NY Times)

Not all employees are sanguine about the new technology. Some are leery about getting something embedded under their skin, so are opting for a ring with a chip in it instead. (This is fun tech: I used to have a decoder ring that I used as my pass for public transportation. It didn’t work for seniors, so I gave it up when I hit 65 and was eligible for the quite splendid half-price T-pass. Worth sacrificing the fun of sporting that decoder ring.)

There’s no doubt in my mind that implanted microchips are the wave of the badging future. And – more creepily – the payment method of the future, as well. We’re already moving toward cash-free – there are some CVSs where none of the self-checkout stations accept cash – so why bother with a plastic card or your phone when you can have the everything you need not at your fingertips, but in your fingertips.

There’s an entire tick-list of concerns around this type of technology. Privacy, of course: the inevitable concerns about monitoring bathroom breaks, and where it goes from opening a door or operating the copier. Then there’s security: how hackable is the chip, and could it be hijacked for nefarious purposes. (Okay, at present, it’s not all that smart. Still…)

Health concerns are more difficult to assess. Implantable radio-frequency transponder systems, the technical name for the chips, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004 for medical uses. But in rare cases, according to the F.D.A., the implantation site may become infected, or the chip may migrate elsewhere in the body.

Migrate elsewhere in the body? Shades of Fantastic Voyage, a truly terrible movie from the 1960’s in which a miniaturized Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch traveled around a scientists body to perform some very delicate brain surgery. Or something.

If I live long enough, I’m sure I’ll be implanted with some medical monitoring chip at some point or another. Until then, I’m just as happy I’m not working for an outfit that wants me to punch in and out by waving my thumb in their direction.

I’m no one’s chip off the old block, and I don’t want a chip in the old block, either.

Meanwhile, people in some quarters are freaking out, giving Three Square 1-star ratings in Google reviews, ranting about end times and the mark of the beast.

And away we go…

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