It’s no secret that the pandemic rapidly accelerated the adoption of contactless payment methods, which limited touchpoints and the spread of Coronavirus. But now technology is moving one step further, with a microchip implant that allows you to pay with your hand!
A recent survey of more than 4000 people across the UK and European Union, found that 51% of people would consider having a microchip implant!
The implant procedure, reported to hurt as much as someone pinching your skin, has been available since 1998, when a microchip was first implanted into a human. But it’s only recently that the technology has become available commercially.
Implantable payment chips now available
Walletmor, a British-Polish firm became the first company to sell implantable payment chips, and have now sold more than 500 chips, at £230 each.
Describing it as the “world’s first entirely safe implant, which you can use for contactless payments at any time, anywhere”.
How does it work?
The technology Walletmor uses is near-field communication or NFC, the same contactless payment system as in smartphones.
The implant consists of a NFC chip (where the data is stored), a NFC antenna (to communicate with a POS terminal) and the outer material is made from biopolymer which has been proved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to be safe in the human body.
The implant needs to be installed by a specialist and Walletmor recommends many specialist medical aesthetic clinics across Europe, with 5 located in the UK. The specialist will make a small incision, not that much bigger than a grain of rice, (28mm by 7mm by 0.4mm) and implant the microchip on the outside of the hand, after the small finger metacarpal bone. The procedure is relatively painless and takes around fifteen minutes to complete.
To use the implant for payments, users need to download an iCard app, activate an account and add money to it. The chip has the same payment limit of £100 like other contactless payment methods.
Once the contactless payment microchip is injected under the skin, you can use your hand, instead of a card or phone to make payments. Simply place your hand near the contactless card reader and the payment will go through.
Other payment implants use RFID (radio-frequency identification) which is used for contactless debit and credit cards.
Some technology experts say implanted microchips are just an extension of the internet of things and a new way of connecting and exchanging data.
Walletmor’s founder and CEO, Wojtek Paprota said: “Ultimately our implants will merge your physical and digital identity and it is closer than you think. I don't even feel the implant in my hand, it is super small and very flexible. It became part of my body, part of me.”
Patrick Paumen, a 37 year old security guard from the Netherlands, had the contactless payment microchip installed in 2019. So instead of needing to carry his wallet or phone around with him, he simply places his left hand near the contactless card reader to make a payment. He said: "The reactions I get from cashiers are priceless!"
Patrick describes himself as a ‘biohacker’, someone who puts pieces of technology into his body to try to improve his performance. He has 32 implants in total, including chips to open doors and embedded magnets.
He added: "There will always be people who don't want to modify their body. We should respect that - and they should respect us as biohackers."
Walletmor has reassured potential customers that the chip is completely safe and has regulatory approval. There is no risk of losing, or getting the implant stolen and the FDA have confirmed it is bio-safe.
The chip will work immediately after it is implanted and remain firmly in place. It won’t impact other medical treatments, for instance MRI’s, or require a battery or power source to function.
The microchip payment is globally accepted and convenient, you will never need to worry about bringing your wallet or your phone to make payments again!
The implant meets industry standards and doesn’t gather any information about the user, or violate your privacy. It does not have an inbuilt GPS, so the device can’t be used to track or spy on your location.
The implant does not transmit radio waves that could be intercepted and the NFC Communication Standard, used for contactless payments, prevents the implant from being hacked or copied. The security system, 3-D secure, is used to provide connection encryption and meet the ISO 18092 standard for data transmission.
Despite the survey showing a high amount of people were prepared to have a microchip implanted, invasiveness and security issues were major concerns for respondents.
There are still concerns that when the technology becomes more advanced, the embedded chips will carry more of our personal data. Will there be additional security measures to protect privacy? How secure will this data be and could users be tracked?
The implant prompts several ethical questions - Who owns the users’ data? Who has access to the data?
Some people are also questioning whether it is ethical to chip people like we do with pets.
The Soumac View
So, could implants be the future for contactless payments?
Many people appear to be open to the idea of implants, as it is a convenient, quick and easy way to pay for things. But we still have to question how many people will want to undergo an invasive procedure, when the current ‘tap and go’ contactless payment solutions are equally as convenient and quick.
Similarly the cost is a consideration, although not totally prohibitive, will many people want to spend £230 for an implant, when they could use other contactless payment options for free?
There are still limitations, the Walletmor implants expire after 8 years from purchasing, so users will need to undergo another procedure to remove and replace the implant. There has also been little information circulated on whether users will require updates or additional procedures, as the technology advances.
Despite reassurances about the safety of the current chips, ethical issues and security still remain a concern, especially once the embedded chips carry more of our personal data. For it to be a viable proposition, the right infrastructure will need to be in place to ensure user’s safety.
Currently the iCard account is only available in European countries but Walletmor is working on opening up in new markets and it could be available around the globe within the next two years. It will be interesting to see how many people embrace this advancing technology in the future and whether forgetting your wallet or phone really will become a worry of the past.
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