The surveillance culture that is Sweden

The syringe slides in between the thumb and index finger. Then, with a click, a microchip is injected in the employee’s hand. Another “cyborg” is created.

What could pass for a dystopian vision of the workplace is almost routine at the Swedish startup hub Epicenter. The company offers to implant its workers and startup members with microchips the size of grains of rice that function as swipe cards: to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.

The injections have become so popular that workers at Epicenter hold parties for those willing to get implanted.

“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving near it. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”

Here is more, via Samir Varma.  Personally, I would rather sponsor a few seats at that crucifixion in Manchester…or better yet sit next to the bishop.


One problem in my life is that it is too difficult to buy a smoothie. I'm glad technology is solving that.

There is no great stagnation!

Nice solution to solve person identification. More reliable than biometrics methods (fingerprint, face recognition, etc) and it's easy to remove the chip than change your fingerprints or your face. Like it.

I want one now and forget this password nightmare era.

Wait for the nightmare of some scoundrel with a cloned rfid "chip" impersonating you.

Or a thief wanting to cut off my hand.

Joke's on him. I put the chip in my penis. What are you gonna do now, smart guy??

This raises some possibilities in a prostitution-legal marketplace. Please discuss, smart people.

You still need two factor authentication for reasonable security. As rluser alludes to, proper security consists of "something you have" and "something you know." The chip takes care of the former, but if it gets cloned or stolen without you having a password you're still just as screwed as you would have been before. Maybe moreso since "how could someone possibly have stolen something in your skin?!"

I would love to hear your thoughts on privacy. Overrated or underrated? What is its intrinsic value? What do you think are the implications for society of an ever decreasing privacy. Both voluntary, e.g. Amazon Echo, the mentioned chip and (practically) involuntary, e.g. taking part in everyday live in China.

+1 this would be a great discussion. There isn't nearly enough thought about first principles in this domain.

I agree.

FWIW, I think many privacy fears are rooted in the false ideas that (1) we are special, and (2) Google wants to waste time figuring out exactly how.

That said, legislated information firewalls are good, and seem unlikely to restrain the economy or productivity growth. Amazon knows I'm looking at coffee grinders. They need that simple info more than my voting record.

You don't have to be special in a context where hedge fund guy who was top funder for Trump (and also financial for Bannon in getting a media outlet going) has psychometric (etc.) data on 200 million Americans, with up to 5000 data fields for each.

If I am not being singled out, what is the fear? That I will be marketed to as part of some group?

If 51% of people who drink Coke think A as compared to 49% of people who drink Pepsi ... with some dozens, hundreds or thousands of such pieces of information, you might create targeted social media for propaganda and brainwashing purposes.

Read about metadata to understand how little of certain types of information can be used to fill in how significant of a profile on someone. Mozilla has some very accessible works on that. Even I could understand it!

So, probably Coke/Pepsi is not that significant. But what about your responses to Coke's inclusion of a protest in a recent ad? Someone will mine your information to try to find ways to spin this to achieve some specific manipulative end.

I'm talking about ideological and political purposes. If it were only honestly people crunching your data to try to market stuff that you want in a way that is more appealing to you, then I wouldn't have any problem. But that's about 1% of what happens with your data.

Your data.

So, "you're not special".

But you're statistically speaking a member of some number of identifiable groups which may be targeted by such things. And since your information dictates your belonging to that group for targeted "information", then by definition it's extremely likely to be related to you.

You're not special, but you are liable to be targeted by an algorithm that can be designed to TRY to get you to think about certain things in certain ways. Because statistically speaking, there is good certainty about which messages are more likely to be received/responded to in which ways by people with your psychometric profile.

Or being a random business person who deals with foreigners and have your already existing records at the fingertips of Susan Rice, the 30 person PDB circle, all their friends, and the NYT, if you decide to run for office. Don't worry! You aren't special! But, if you try to become special, we'll have blackmail or leak information on you.


If you are in a political swing state you will be targeted. If not, do you want a president elected on emotional grounds rather than rational considerations? In last presidential election the results were determined from less than 80K votes in swing states while losing the popular votes. The keys to the win were to dissuade DEM supporters not to vote and to agitate the REP supporters enough that they would vote. And that was based on personalized targeted messages from the psychometrics of the voters derived from many seemingly innocent factors like if you drink coke/pepsi or latte. For comparison in Brexit, one Billion such personalized messages were targeted mostly in the last 10 days. The CA system was alledgedly derived from the work of Kosinski.

"""Michal Kosinski, deputy director of the Cambridge Psychometrics Centre, ... analysed Facebook likes and was able to predict a range of personal and lifestyle characteristics from this simple variable to a surprisingly high degree of accuracy, identifying the “Big Five” personality traits as well as IQ levels. ... “It is like Pepsi v Coke. There is no real difference in taste tests and the two groups of drinkers are really similar, but Pepsi drinkers are lower in intelligence. Although that could be as a result of the marketing used to attract that group.” """

Post election analysis showed that education attainment was the most significant factor in the last presedential election.

Now you know why some of you keep seeing those soft drink ads. Now all commenters here are tarred with this attribute. You are what the ads say you are. :)

Thomas, yes, big deal.

And if there's any envisigeable pathway to anything remotely of any such a nature, that will be paired with explicit efforts to try to manipulate you into doing something that would serve such purposes.

A most troublesome situation.

Partisan or ideological wrangling on the matter is diversion. Clearly it can cut both ways. Things need to be set up in some other way.

Valuations of privacy based on the idea that everyone is like us in all important ways are flawed.

Instead, we should ask what an investment in privacy had earned us so far. It's hard to imagine marijuana legalization or gay marriage had we been under perfect surveillance over the past 50 years. These gained acceptance because more people smoked marijuana or did gay stuff more often over time. But not in public -- many of these nonspecial people would have made different decisions without privacy!

To the extent that privacy is eroded, individual freedom is also eroded. Without individual freedom we can't have things like progressivism or whatever.

That is an interesting argument. I might have to think about it. I'm not completely sure that more criminality has net positive externalities ... because obviously a high surveillance society would reduce the more "victimed" crimes as well.

"Without individual freedom we can’t have things like progressivism or whatever."

Another instance where progressives bite the hand that feeds them.

Or consider something more mundane: complaining about your boss. If you are under total surveillance, you will be far less candid with other employees, this in turn results in more workplace friction and less information sharing. Complaining in private allows for flow of information with lessened risk of personal consequences than if everything is ID tagged and recorded. Cases can be made in private that can build a consensus which would be at significant career risk in public.

It could be good to narrow the terms of discussion to some specific area. Or set about trying to define areas of relevant discussion.

Online/offline would be one. Of potential constitutional/legal relevance would be another. Also, relationships of the subject with risks along various dystopian lines.

Even if it is intrinsic, this does not inherently mean that a) preferences b) logically anti-tyrannical aspects or c) (others), relating to privacy, will not be overcome. For example, people playing games which offer detailed information about their reactions to many things, played on devices which declare their location while doing so. Even such a trivial thing might overcome the entirety of what is "intrinsic" for it, if those devices are not only location beacons which transmit as a part of many social media applications, but also for data streams of various sensors to be hacked.

For which reason (among others, and also in numerous other dimensions), it is important to raise this topic from time to time.

So, big data should have limits placed on it? Who would have guessed from all the enthusiasm about Uber at this web site, and its proven track record in tracking all of its customers? For example, like this - 'Uber has begun collecting passengers’ location data even after journeys have finished, a move that has raised eyebrows among privacy-conscious users.

An update to the app allows Uber to follow users' GPS signal while it is running in the background. Previously, it would only do so when Uber was open on the phone.

Uber said it would only be tracking users from the moment they request a trip until five minutes after the journey had ended. The company said the change would improve the app by allowing for more reliable pick-ups, improving customer service, and enhancing safety.

The additional tracking is meant to help prevent fraud, such as when a driver charges passengers extra by marking a journey as finished several minutes after it has actually ended. However, many users voiced their disappointment at what they saw as an intrusion into their privacy.

When the Uber app is updated, a message pops up asking users to approve background location gathering.

Unlike some apps, there is no way to toggle location settings so it only provides data when the app is open, and if you deny Uber the ability to collect your background location data, the app presents a screen saying it “needs your location to continue”.'

A ride service requires that you give it location data? GASP! I would prefer that they pick me up without knowing my location.

A ride service tracks your GPS signal whenever you open their app? Not quite the same thing.

Guess it is time to again point out this weeks and weeks old article detailing how a ride service decides who to avoid - 'Friday’s twist came from a story in the New York Times about how Uber worked to identify and defeat government officials in a years-long game of cat and mouse that spanned several nations. Uber mined customer geolocation data, credit-card information, app-usage habits and even social-media profiles to identify those working for city governments or driving for rival ride-hailing services.


Uber used a tool, code-named Greyball, in 2014 to identify Portland, Ore., officials who posed as regular customers to request rides in order to gather evidence that the company was operating illegally in the city, according to the Times report. But rather than procuring a driver for the “customer,” the service showed officials fake versions of the Uber app, complete with fake drivers. Any real ones who did respond to the requests for rides would quickly cancel, sometimes after direct intervention from Uber officials to drivers, allowing the service to avoid detection in a city where it was banned.'

I love greyball. "We posed as customers, and they found out!! Unfair!!!1"

What is even better about it is, 'we were breaking the law, so we worked extra hard not to get caught.' Strangely, in Germany, such a display of criminal energy increases your penalties - to the extent that if Greyball had been provably used in Germany, the company would have had its German operations completely shut down, and some executives likely would have served jail time.

Germans just don't respect people who put a lot of effort into breaking the law, it seems.

There's a difference between knowing the starting and ending location and continuous tracking between the two. You don't have to get that creative to think of ways it could be problematic, especially if some other things change only a little bit.

I know that in many places in the USA, people think you're really weird if you walk somewhere instead of drive. Will it soon be suspicious to walk? Because that's also consistent with reducing tracking/monitoring. So ... what about this "who cares who is tracking my every move?" kind of question.

The most remarkable thing to me is that you can get people to not just tolerate the surveillance state, but to joyfully embrace it and even pay for it via consumer goods. Im typing on a tracking device as we speak.

Even Orwell didn't quite anticipate that aspect, at least that I recall.

I don't think he mentioned whether or not the 2-way monitoring device (functionally identical, for present purposes, to a hacked smart TV) was bought by the workers or not. I think at that point it might have been clear that there would be a major consumer market for TVs ...

I see lots of comments like this, "I can't believe we are imposing Big Brother on ourselves!", etc. But they ignore the fact that the technology in question has huge benefits. Not to hand wave at the privacy concerns, but it would be nice to see some rational cost/benefit analysis of all this.

Rational analysis is perhaps not rational when considering entirely possible black swan events. At least, "maximizing the expected value" is perhaps not the best form of "rationality".

There is a large diversity of potential "social objective functions" that can be applied to such non-straightfoward analysis.

For example, you can make a simple model where you tweak the numbers such that a 1% probability of something literally destroying everything would legitimize any amount of effort once a certain threshold was satisfied. E.g., a 99.99% tax to be imposed over $1k a month until that risk was completely gone.

So, I think you can see from that, that the debates about the modelling of "social objective functions" for such considerations make it very clear that what exactly constitutes "rational cost/benefit analysis" for various situations is extremely debatable.

Brave New a World is a more likely template for the West, with marijuana substituting for Soma.

Yes, its incredible how stupid people are, just give them a shiny toy, and they will go run for it...

Such is life in Stefan Löfven's Sweden...

“The biggest benefit I think is convenience,”

Certainly one of the four most important qualities desired in modern life, convenience, comfort, entertainment and security. The free delivery of a quality pizza to an air-conditioned home in a well-patrolled neighborhood while the Super Bowl is being watched on a big screen TV has been about as good as it gets. But it gets even better.

lazy and lazier, it's incredible really.

An extensive psychometric database used together with a hacked smart TV to weave (certainly friendly?) emotionally-laden messages into your experience?

I bet it could increase the amount of seratonin. Or decrease it. I wonder what a wannabe Big Brother might do with such capacities?

"while the Super Bowl is being watched on a big screen TV "
I don't care about the Super Bowl. Can I have I drone like the ones the American regime uses to bomb weddi gs and use the big screen tv to watch and guide my attacks?

To be fair, it was a Saudi who pressed the buttons.

When when you give such buttons to people who you know are liable to press the buttons in such ways, there's a strong argument to be made that there is little different.

Such logic was behind scares relating to Cuba back in the day. The fact that the nukes were (potentially) coming from Russia was relevant, no?

But only Castro, not Khrushchev, was ready to start a nuclear war. Khrushchev comradely reproached him for his adventurism.

I have an RFID card for the office. It opens the parking, the main building door, and gives access to the printer, and the system works nicely. I think the only problem with RFID cards is that we are distracted meatbags that keep losing cards. The employer is not happy about it and there's a money penalization when you lose the card because someone can have unauthorized access to the building. So......who wins with implants? The employer. What the employee wins? Nothing, perhaps the employee loses.

If someone wants to have access to the job's building, pointing a gun to my head it's enough to motivate to give the RFID card and keys. What happens in the case of implants? I become a target for nothing.

If you had actually read the excerpt, you would know the employee gets the power of buying smoothies with a wave of the hand.

One free Starbucks a month, and most Americans would be in.


OK, for you, one grande a month.

Not a good argument for democracy.

In a context where technological risks towards totalitarianism are unusually potentiated with limited counteraction potentials except those which exist in generally unrelated socio-techno-political dimensions.

Ok, we vote that you are chipped.

An argument for Democracy.


If someone points a gun to your head tell him to stop because it's not nice. If he won't stop, be firm and shout, "cut that out mister!"

That should work.

Or tell them he will get no smoothies if he kills you. It is not from the benevolence of the looter, the robber, or the murder that we expect our survival, but from their regard to their own interest."

Privacy, like "freedom", has all but lost any meaning. In my generation, clarity in communications was considered sacred - I refer to my generation as the Strunk and White Generation. Today, hidden meanings in communications has become the standard among a certain class of intellectuals. Nobody says what they mean anymore. And so it is with words like "privacy" and "freedom".

Sometimes I don't inderstand Tyler's posts. Sometimes sometimes is really always. What is he saying?

In the future the chip will have a glucose monitor, a LDL/HDL monitor, blood pressure indicator and will bar you from the cafeteria or soft drink dispenser if you exceed your parameters, and, if you wish to exceed the standards, you will pay more for your employers health insurance if you exceed the limits or do not participate in the program.

But I will be able to buy or sell.

>In the future the chip will have a glucose monitor, a LDL/HDL monitor, blood pressure indicator...

All of which would be a hell of a lot more useful than the ability to unlock a door without having to extend a keycard via the elastic attachment to your belt.

But Bill, we will get all that for FREE!

In terms of what to worry about more than privacy, I nominate synthetic reality:

Schwarzenegger's movie The Running Man (Butcher of Bakersfield scenes) was an early warning. We may live to see news we can't trust with our eyes alone.

It would be great if we get customized fake news - the end of Prozac!

My biggest fear about this is that in chess games it will now be easier to cheat. If one can cheat at chess by wearing a smart phone in their shoe (as happened a while ago; how in the world did they get feedback?) it will be much harder to detect cheating if somebody is relaying moves with a RFID or computer chip the size of a grain of rice, or getting feedback from one. Metal detectors might be a partial cure, but what about a dental implant?

If you weren't prepared to do cavity searches, implantables are not a change to your threat model.

And you cannot do all that with a simple wearable to badge? Everyone gets to make their choices but I sure like leaving work at the door when I leave most of the time.

"And you cannot do all that with a simple wearable to badge? "

Or using the Near Field Comm on your smart phone? This makes sense to do with a pet. But this doesn't seem to offer much convenience over swiping your phone or a badge or key fob.

To be fair, in some ways, this is just a more accurate and convenient form of biometric ID than an iris or fingerprint scan. This seems less intrusive than a tattoo or body piercings. So, maybe the reactions are just a first impression 'ick' and in 10 years no one would think it anymore unusual than getting a tattoo.

But then what if some homeless guy who doesn't work in the office starts coming in and stealing free smoothies every day, because they use an ID option that is something other than a surgical implant under the skin?

And no one ever notices that a random homeless guy is stealing smoothies every day.

And then what?

There will be neandtherthals. There will be stone aged people. For now. Get microchop implants, or be stuck in the stone ages where your backwards thinking will lead to your exclusion from everything, especially money, and probably the genetic pool.

Or else the homeless guy might get a free smoothie.

(Significant creative liberties taken in presenting misinrepretations from a questions asked of a speaker at a recent tech event.)

But it means we will all have many followers and I always wanted to be a leader.

Maybe someday we will be able to stream our whole day and watch reruns of our lives.

I want to see the looks on those people's faces again that time I silently farted in the crowded subway car. It was good - I'll post it on FB.

As if people aren't self centered enough anyways.

For a good example for thinking through what that might be like, check "Black Mirror" by Charlie Parker, which had 2 seasons on Channel 4 in the UK and got picked up for another 2 seasons by Netflix.

All the episodes are worth watching, so I'm not going to tell you which one.

16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

I already said that.

If I'm already using an RFID card to enter the garage, office building, elevator banks, access my floor, buy my lunch/coffee, etc. what difference does it really make privacy-wise whether that RFID is embedded in my ID card or my skin? I get the injection is intrusive and possibly painful, but you also have the convenience of never leaving your ID at home, dropping it in the street, etc. While I get the argument that the discomfort of the installation might outweigh the convenience benefits, I just don't see the privacy issue since I'm being tracked by my employer anyway. We gave that privacy up long ago.

If you're OK with the chips, surely it's OK to mandate chips for criminals (who rightfully deserve far fewer rights than yourself, a God-fearing tax paying citizen).

Being over blood sugar of 9 or under 5 is now criminal.

Also, accumulated parking tickets of more than $500 is now criminal.

For the now reduced classification of "criminal" which enables chipping of anyone who ever made a mis-step of any sort. Perhaps we can just call these people "deviants" and retain the more serious usage for "criminal"?

Either way, your self centered and naive indifference is precisely the sort of thing that can lead to everyone being chipped.

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