If you haven’t heard of the name Patrick Paumen, you are in for a treat (or a shock!). Paumen is known for causing a stir when he walks into a restaurant or a shop and pays for food or a service.
This is because his man does not need a bank card, cash, or even his mobile phone to pay his amount due. Instead, he simply places his left hand near a contactless car reader and the payment goes through.
He is able to do this because back in 2019 he had a contactless payment microchip injected under his skin. Paumen claims that the procedure is painless, feeling like someone simply pinched your skin. A microchip was first implanted into a human back in 1998. However, it is only during this past decade that the technology has been made available commercially.
We have seen technology advancing when it comes to payments for many years now. From cash to credit cards, we moved onto contactless payments, back transfers, and e-payments that are used across various industries such as when shopping at retail outlets, booking travel tickets online, purchasing medicine through web portals, playing the best online slots in the UK at online casinos, and more. Implantable payment chips seem to be the next big thing.
British-Polish firm, Walletmor, became the first company to offer these implantable payment chips for sale. Founder and chief executive Wojtek Paprota claims that ‘The implant can be used to pay for a drink on the beach in Rio, a coffee in New York, a haircut in Paris – or at your local grocery store. It can be used wherever contactless payments are accepted.’
Walletmor’s chip weighs less than a gram and it is a little bigger than a grain of rice. It is comprised of a tiny microchip and an antenna encased in a biopolymer, a naturally sourced material that is similar to plastic. Paprota claims that it is entirely safe, has regulatory approval, and that it works instantly after being implanted and will stay firmly in place. It does not need a battery or any other power source. The firm has now successfully sold 500 chips.
The technology used by Walletmor is NFC, near-field communication which is what is used for the contactless payment system in smartphones. Other payment implants are based on radio-frequency identification which is technology that is similar to what is used for physical contactless debit and credit cards.
While a number of people consider this chip as invasive and raise security issues, a 2021 survey of more than 4,000 people in the UK and in the EU found that 51% would consider using this chip as a source of payment.
Paumen claims that he is not at all worried about security issues. ‘Chip implants contain the same kind of technology that people use on a daily basis,’ he claims, ‘From key fobs to unlock doors, public transit cards like the London Oyster card, or bank cards with contactless payment function. The reading distance is limited by the small antenna coil inside the implant. The implant needs to be within the electromagnetic field of a compatible RFID [or NFC] reader. Only when there is a magnetic coupling between the reader and the transponder the implant can be read.
‘RFID chips are used in pets to identify them when they’re lost,’ he says. ‘But it’s not possible to locate them using an RFID chip implant – the missing pet needs to be found physically. Then the entire body gets scanned until the RFID chip implant is found and read.’
However, the issue also lies in the fact that these chips, in the future, might become more advanced and packed full of a person’s private data, leading to a person being tracked. Expert Theodora Lau, co-author of the book Beyond Good: How Technology Is Leading A Business Driven Revolution claims that the implanted payment chips are ‘an extension of the internet of things’, meaning another way of connecting and exchanging data. However, she also claims that the benefits of such technological advancements must be weighed with the risks.
Professor of policy, governance, and ethics at Reading University’s Henley Business School, Nada Kakabadse warns about an advanced future. ‘There is a dark side to the technology that has a potential for abuse,’ she says. ‘To those with no love of individual freedom, it opens up seductive new vistas for control, manipulation and oppression. And who owns the data? Who has access to the data? And is it ethical to chip people like we do pets?’
However, Paumen remains adamant that the benefits outweigh the negatives. ‘Technology keeps evolving, so I keep collecting more,’ he says. ‘My implants augment my body. I wouldn’t want to live without them. There will always be people who don’t want to modify their body. We should respect that – and they should respect us as biohackers.’