You Heard It Here First: Trendy, Shallow Club Goers into Ease, "Glamour" of Imbedded Microchips
I've got you under my skin
A number of VIP clubbers at a Barcelona nightclub have been implanted with a chip in their upper arm. But, as Andrew Losowsky reports, the potential uses of the technology could be wide ranging
Thursday June 10, 2004
'Let's dance," screams the DJ from his fake speedboat. Britney blasts out and the scantily clad crowd goes wild. Every weekend, Baja Beach Club in Barcelona is filled with bare flesh, much of it courtesy of their topless barmen and bikinied waitresses. But it is what's under the skin that's causing a fuss.
Two months ago, Baja announced it would be the first nightclub in the world to offer their VIPs something more than a gold-plated entry card. Those who wanted it could have a microchip implanted under their skin. The chip not only guarantees entry but provides access to a debit account from which they can pay for drinks.
"One of our owners wanted to do something special for our new VIP section," says Steve van Soest, spokesman for the club. "He'd read about the chip in newspapers, so we started to see if it was possible and legal here in Spain. It was." Since its launch, 25 people have had the chip injected into their upper arm by a registered doctor at the club, which also plans to use the technology in its sister club in Rotterdam.
The chip was unveiled at a Paris technology conference in November. Potential applications are, according to its Florida-based manufacturer Advanced Digital Solutions (ADS), "a variety of security, defence and secure-access applications, such as government and private sector facilities."
The chip is about the size of a grain of rice, doesn't set off airport scanners and contains no power supply. It sits dormant under your skin until a scanner is passed over it, sending out a low-range radio frequency. The chip responds to the signal and supplies the scanner with its unique ID number. How that number is used depends on the database the scanner is hooked up to: in the case of Baja Beach Club, it's the balance on the person's bar account. The chip's useful lifespan is around 20 years.
All this probably sounds familiar to pet owners. The technology was developed 15 years ago by Digital Angel, a subsidiary of ADS, for tracking pets and livestock. The VeriChip is essentially the same radio frequency identification (RFID) microchip "with additional safeguards added for human use", according to its spokesman, Andrea Fulcher.
"Before I got the chip, they injected me with a local anaesthetic," says Antoine Hazelaar, a club promoter based in Barcelona. "It didn't hurt at all. And now I'm not even sure where on my arm it is."
If VeriChip becomes a success in other locations, Hazelaar won't need to have others implanted - it would merely be a matter of his unique ID number being transferred to their databases.
"If the government offered this as a choice, saying you can put your ID card, your social security card and your credit card away and just have this, I'd sign immediately," he says. "I wouldn't have to carry around my wallet. If I need to go to hospital, even if I'm unconscious, they could just scan and get my records."
However, not everyone is so keen. "We are totally against the implanting of RFID chips into humans," says Chris McDermott, of the anti-RFID group Notags, which was formed to protest against companies that trace their products through electronic tagging. "As with many projects, they always start out being fairly innocuous but never stay that way for long. The chip contains your name and ID number, and as this could be read remotely without your knowledge, that is already too much information."
Andrea Fulcher, of ADS, says she doesn't understand why people may be afraid of having the chip. "It is strictly voluntary and, in the future, we see many benefits for users." She also points out that the chip is easy to remove if you change your mind. The company is working on evolutionary developments, including chips that contain GPS trackers.
Sinister or not, its use at Baja Beach Club seems in keeping with the surroundings. "It's very suitable for this kind of place, because it's so body-aware," says René Lönngren, who runs the Barcelona e-magazine Le cool. "In an atmosphere where it is all muscles/tits/bodies, people are attracted by the superficiality. And these kinds of people will be interested in having a chip inside them, paying special attention to their bodies."
FLASHBACK: (we broke this story in April) Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain Launches Microchip Implantation for VIP Members