Microchip misconceptions — How they really work

Katina Michael argues there is a dichotomy when it comes to human microchipping: “people either believe that it’s very risk to go down this path, or there are many rewards”. For me, the situation is a lot more nuanced than that. When I tell people that my PhD looks at people putting microchips in their bodies there are broadly four groups of people:

Group 1: The “tell me more” people

These people are interested in the tech and want to know more about how it works, if it hurts, what they can do with it etc. They are open to the idea of insertable devices. 

Group 2: The “as if” people 

These people think it’s weird and would never do it themselves. They aren’t necessarily against the idea, it’s just not for them — which is a fine and valid choice. This may be due to current attitudes around what is acceptable to do to the body, which may neutralise over time as we have seen with plastic surgery, tattoos and even eyeglasses. As attitudes change these people may be open to getting a device, or may still elect not to have one.

“The impacts of eyeglasses and watches were also hotly debated in their time. But despite gloomy predictions, books, watches and glasses are now an accepted part of our lives”
— Alex Pentland, 1998

Group 3: The extremists

Microchipping propaganda

Microchipping propaganda

The people who can’t be reasoned with. The ones who see microchips as the mark of the beast. A sign that the end of the world is coming. Devices that the Zionist, lizard people want to implant into your brain to control you as part of the New World Order. Group 3 are never going to get these devices (which again, is fine, these devices should always remain optional), and there is no way to argue against their irrational paranoia and have them accept the reality of the technology. Many of these would have you believe they aren’t optional and that we are already secretly being microchipped. Trust me — you’d know if you had a microchip inserted, it’s not painful but it’s not pain-free. 

Group 4: The misinformed 

This group thinks the Government and / or their girlfriends will track them using these microchips. Group 4 are simply misinformed. They are swayed by the paranoid ranting of the minority and reacting to specialative, imaginative and downright fictional uses of microchipping. This is not helped by sensationalised or fake news stories, and has been (mis)informed by years of science fiction tropes. 

From the Cyber Men of Doctor Who, to The Terminator, The six million dollar man and the bionic women. There are a pleather of cyberpunk films characterized by near-future high-tech often dystopian realities where humans are rebuilt with bionic implants to restore and extend capabilities into the super human. The microchipping trope has accented science fiction — Neo Jacks in, James Bond’s health in monitored and transmitted via a chip, Quaid is implanted from tracking in Total Recall, even the T-Rex in Jurassic World realizes she has a tracking microchip inside her and bites it out.

The microchipping trope is common in sci-fi films

The microchipping trope is common in sci-fi films

But this is not how these microchips work. They have no tracking abilities. That is purely science fiction. When trying to explain to people that they work the same as microchips in pets, and was surprised to learn that many people think they can geo-locate a lost pet from this microchip. 

How microchips work

So, let’s clear up these misconceptions. These microchips have no GPS. They have no battery. They have no computational power at all. They are passive microchips that store a single number and cannot be read until they are bought to the correct, proprietary, scanner. When they are scanner they only provide the ID. The ID needs to be matched to a database to give any meaningful information. 

Petco reached out to me to provide this helpful infographic, and some information, of how microchips work:

A microchip is a device about the size of a grain of rice. These tiny devices contain an identification number that is unique to your pet and is tied to an online database that contains your contact information. When a special scanner is waved over the microchip, it reads the chip’s radio frequency and displays the identification number. Typically, a veterinarian’s office, animal shelter or law enforcement agency has a handheld scanner to use for this purpose. When the number is entered into the online database, the person who scanned the chip can retrieve contact information and reunite the pet with his family.

Source — Petco  

Source — Petco  

TL;DR The Government / your girlfriend cannot track you 

So, the Government or your girlfriend can’t track you. It’s like thinking they could track your location from a passive card just sitting in your wallet. Not possible. Even if the Government did enforce microchipping they couldn’t look at a map and pin point where you are, the situation would be a little more like Advertising Agency Havas’ fincitonal Pitch on the Gruen Project.