A while back there was the DIY RFID that I blogged about. Today there is this story in the Financial Times about exclusive clubs offering their most prestigious patrons embedded chips the size of a rice grain to give them privileged access to their clubs. It has a whole history of this technology.
One night in Barcelona last year, a young Dutchman named Antoine Hazelaar received a strange proposition from the owner of a local nightspot, the Baja Beach Club. The club had just started a new programme called VipChip, he was told, and for E125, a qualified nurse could inject a device the size of a grain of rice, a VeriChip, into his upper arm. Once implanted, it would transmit an ID number to a scanner that would recognise Hazelaar as a special customer, so he wouldn’t have to wait in line and would get access to a private lounge. Since he would be one of the first people to be injected, the nightclub’s management would waive the initiation fee.
Hazelaar agreed. At about 8pm one spring evening, in front of a throng of journalists, he sat down on a sofa in the cavernous Baja with another Dutch expat and a Spanish woman, ready to be injected. Bandages, needles and syringes were ceremoniously laid out on a cocktail table. Thanks to a local anaesthetic, Hazelaar didn’t feel the long shaft, about the size of a large sewing needle, as it entered his flesh. He didn’t feel the chip either, and a year later, he still doesn’t. “I forgot that I had it until you called,” he said.
Now, every time Hazelaar visits the Baja, he strides past the queue outside and goes straight to the doorman, who scans his arm until his name and photograph pop up on a computer screen. When he goes through another checkpoint at the special VipChip lounge, the number under his flesh becomes a payment instrument, like a loyalty card at Starbucks.
A waitress runs a scanner over his right bicep and the cost of a drink is deducted from his account.
As it turns out, Hazelaar became one of the world’s first human debit cards. But he wasn’t the last. The Baja now has 90 implanted VIPs; there are 70 at its sister club in Rotterdam, which opened last November. Even though the injection now costs E1,500 per person – including a E500 drinks credit – both establishments have waiting lists. Club co-owner Conrad Chase, a former star of the Spanish version of Big Brother, says his group might expand to Valencia and Hamburg, where they will also offer VipChip membership.
Some might say that this technology was inevitable, but how has this slightly creepy device become even remotely popular? And will it one day become part of everyday life?
Ultimately, the choice is fear versus fear. What makes people feel most vulnerable? A hacker running up to them with a scanner, or news stories of rampant ID theft, infant abductions, botched surgeries, convicts on the run and terrorists among us? The VeriChip may be an extreme solution for extreme times, but the days when it could be dismissed as futuristic fancy are clearly long past.