When Cash Is Only Skin
By Julia Scheeres; Nov. 25,
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 XFiles-ish, financial transactions using radio
frequency identification, or RFID, are already commonplace in some
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
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
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.
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).