“Mobile phones are much more dangerous to our privacy,” says Pawel Rotter, a biomedical engineer at AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, Poland. “If hacked, phones can convert into the perfect spy with microphones, cameras and GPS. Compared to them, the privacy risks from RFID are really small.”
Surveillance concerns about the chip on the back of his hand don’t worry Dave Williams as it can only be activated if placed a few centimetres from a reader. “Fears of GPS-style tracking are strictly science fiction at this point,” he says. He is also keen to emphasise that the procedure to implant it isn’t as gruesome as some might imagine.
Williams installed his chip himself, using plenty of iodine to keep everything sterile. “There was almost no pain at all,” he says. “Removing the tag will be a little harder, but with a scalpel and pair of tweezers it’s not a huge job.”
Hacking and security concerns, however, are less easily hand-waved away. RFID chips can only carry a minuscule 1 kilobyte or so of data, but one researcher at Reading University’s School of Systems Engineering, Mark Gasson, demonstrated that they are vulnerable to malware.
Gasson had an RFID tag implanted in his left hand in 2009, and tweaked it a year later so that it would pass on a computer virus. The experiment uploaded a web address to the computer connected to the reader, which would cause it to download some malware if it was online.
“It was actually a surprisingly violating experience,” says Gasson. “I became a danger to the building’s systems.”
While regular workplace entry cards can be hacked too, the very attribute of an RFID implant that makes it so convenient — the fact that it can’t be forgotten or left at home — is also its biggest drawback. When a subcutaneous gadget goes wrong, the experience can be far more harrowing.
“Implantable technology can’t be easily removed or in this case even switched off,” Gasson says. “I felt like the implant was a part of my body, so there was a real feeling of helplessness when things aren’t right.”
(BBC,By Richard Gray)