(Wired) A Florida company has announced plans to develop a service that would allow consumers to pay for merchandise using microchips implanted under their skin. Applied Digital Solutions CEO Scott Silverman said he believes the company’s VeriChip — a subdermal microchip that uses radio frequency signals to broadcast an identification number to a scanner — could someday replace credit cards.
Under Silverman’s plan, rather than swiping a bank card to make purchases, micro-chipped customers would scan themselves using special readers.
Although the biochip payment plan may strike some people as a bit X Files-ish, financial transactions using radio frequency identification, or RFID, are already commonplace in some areas.
ExxonMobil’s Speedpass, for example, is a key-chain fob containing an RFID tag that is linked to the holder’s credit card; users wave the fob in front of a scanner integrated into a gas pump, and their fuel purchase is charged to their credit card account within seconds. Recently more than 400 McDonald’s restaurants in the greater Chicago area started using the Speedpass system to allow customers to more conveniently buy their burgers and fries.
Meanwhile, MasterCard is testing an RFID-enabled credit card called PayPass. Like the Speedpass, the revamped card uses RFID to access the user’s financial information and obviates the need for signatures or interactions with store clerks. In an interview with USA Today last week, a senior MasterCard executive said the company is considering integrating its RFID technology into other items, such as pens or earrings.
“Ultimately, it could be embedded in anything — someday, maybe even under the skin,” the executive said.
Which is where the VeriChip folks come in. RFID-enabled pens or jewelry could be easily lost or stolen, but RFID-enabled humans are bit harder to tamper with.
“We are the only ones out there offering implantable ID technology,” said Silverman, who announced the “VeriPay” service during a speech Friday at ID World 2003 in Paris. “We believe the market will evolve to use our product.”
Although he acknowledged that a final product may be a few years away, Silverman invited banks and credit card companies to collaborate in developing commercial applications using VeriPay. In the near future, Silverman said, the chip could be used as an added antifraud device in financial transactions — ATM users could enter their PIN and get scanned, for example.
Richard M. Smith, a privacy and security consultant, said one of the biggest hurdles facing the VeriPay system might be the squeamishness of potential users.
“VeriPay will offer some conveniences over RFID credit cards, but I think most people will be creeped out with the idea of putting little radio transmitters in their bodies,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, Applied Digital has attracted scorn from some fundamentalist Christians, who believe that VeriChip is the fabled “mark of the beast” of biblical lore. According to the book of Revelation, Satan will someday force people to “receive a mark” on their hands or foreheads in order to buy or sell.
“This is a gigantic step toward the mark of the beast, ” said Gary Wohlscheid, whose website, These Last Days Ministries, keeps tabs on what many Christians believe are the signs of a coming religious Armageddon. His site is one of dozens that link VeriChip to the apocalyptic prophecy.
Applied Digital officials say such concern is unfounded because people are chipped voluntarily.
The VeriPay service is one of several the company has launched to promote its product. Applied Digital has positioned its microchip as an anti-kidnapping device (VeriKid), emergency ID system (VeriMed) and as a way to control access to secure buildings (VeriGuard).