Thousands Of Swedes Are Inserting Microchips Under Their Skin Proponents of the chips say they're safe and largely protected from hacking, but one scientist is raising privacy concerns around the kind of personal health data that might be stored on the devices.
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Thousands Of Swedes Are Inserting Microchips Under Their Skin

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Thousands Of Swedes Are Inserting Microchips Under Their Skin

Thousands Of Swedes Are Inserting Microchips Under Their Skin

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This month in All Tech Considered, we're looking at our bodies the way technology sees them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ULRICH SCHNAUSS' "NOTHING HAPPENS IN JUNE")

CHANG: Lots of technology promises to make routine tasks easier and quicker, but how far would you go to adopt that technology? Would you, say, implant a microchip underneath your skin? Lots of people in Sweden are doing just that. In fact, there's so much demand for the microchips that the country's main supplier says it cannot keep up with the requests. Maddy Savage reports from Stockholm.

(SOUNDBITE OF READER SCANNING)

MADDY SAVAGE, BYLINE: Erik Frisk is unlocking the door to his 16th-century townhouse with just a swipe of his hand. The 30-year-old web developer and designer lives here with a group of friends and recently organized a chipping party, inviting a biohacking company to inject tiny microchips into the skin just above his housemates' thumbs.

ERIK FRISK: They work exactly the same as your key tag, the thing you scan to get into your garage or into your office or - it's just completely passive. It has no energy source or anything. When you tap it against a reader, the chip sends back an ID that tells the reader which chip this is. And then if it's a door, for example, it can decide whether or not it should let you in.

SAVAGE: Growing numbers of Swedish offices, coworking hubs and gyms have started adopting the technology, too. The chips can also be used to store emergency contact details, social media profiles or e-tickets for events.

SZILVIA VARSZEGI: Why did I get the chip? Mostly because I was curious, and I wanted to make my life a little bit easier.

SAVAGE: That's Szilvia Varszegi, one of Erik's housemates.

VARSZEGI: This morning, when I leave, the only thing that I need is my bank card. That's the one thing that I basically carry around. But for every other things, the chip basically solves my problems.

SAVAGE: What was it like getting it inserted?

VARSZEGI: A little bit scary but not painful at all. I was surprised. Maybe it was the adrenaline, but it feels perfectly fine.

SAVAGE: More than 4,000 Swedes have had the chips inserted. One company's dominating the market. It was started by a former professional body piercer turned tech addict.

JOWAN OSTERLUND: My name is Jowan Osterlund. I'm the CEO and founder of Biohax International. For the last five years, it's escalated quickly. Last two years, I've been doing this full-time.

SAVAGE: Privacy is the big issue that a lot of people will be thinking about when they hear this. What happens to people's data?

OSTERLUND: It's not much different than today. Everything is hackable, but the reason to hack them will never be bigger because it's a microchip. It's harder for someone to get to since you put it in you.

SAVAGE: What happens if a software update is needed?

OSTERLUND: Well, that happens in the back end. It's got a lifetime of about 10 years. Not like today's phones - there won't be a need to get a new one every year.

SAVAGE: Sweden's largest train company recently started allowing commuters to use chips instead of tickets, and there's talk they could soon be used to make payments in shops and restaurants.

But I'm on my way to meet Ben Libberton, a British scientist based in Sweden who's campaigning for lawmakers to keep a closer eye on the trend.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN LOUDSPEAKER)

BEN LIBBERTON: What is happening now is relatively safe. But if it's used everywhere, if every time you want to do something, you want to - kind of instead of using a card, use your chip, it could be very, very easy to let go of that information.

SAVAGE: Swedes are early adopters when it comes to technology, and the economy is already one of the most cashless on the planet. Microchips are a niche trend right now, but it might not be too long before they go mainstream, and that's something that worries Ben Libberton.

LIBBERTON: Because it's implanted in your body, when more health-related information starts being used and incorporated into the chip and being transmitted, that could add an extra layer of privacy that we really need to look at and take care of before it's widely used.

SAVAGE: Yet his voice is very much in the minority here in Sweden, where there's a high level of trust for government institutions, banks and corporations. For NPR News, I'm Maddy Savage in Stockholm.

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