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Viral Scare: The Panic Over RFID Implants

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The scare over RFID implants popped up out of the blue on Facebook the other day despite an obvious sign it wasn’t true.

I was talking with a friend of mine, Ted of TedTheThird.com, the other day, and the subject of those fake scares that spread over Facebook came up.

I complained that when it’s so easy to verify information before you post it, there’s really no excuse not to.

Ted added, “And people don’t understand that when I see them post one false thing, it makes me not want to trust anything else they’re posting.”

Very true, Ted. Very true.

Such was the case over the past few days when I’ve spotted people posting things about RFID implants.

RFID, for those unfamiliar with the term, stands for Radio Frequency Identification, technology that ranges from those little squares stores like Books-A-Million slips inside books to make sure no one walks out of the store without paying for the next Great American Novel; to those little tiny rice-sized cylinders pet owners eagerly implant into their Fido or Fifi so that if the animals are ever lost, they can be identified and returned home.

In other words, when it’s convenient, we seem to have no problem with the technology. (That’s, of course, unless we want to shoplift or we don’t care about being able to find a pet who goes missing.)

But the posts going around social media raise alarms, claiming that Obamacare requires everyone to undergo RFID implants to store their medical records. Sites like snopes.com make it clear, for those who don’t want to trouble themselves to read before spreading the rumor, that there is no such requirement.

What’s most amusing, though, is that one version uses a “common enemy” of conspiracy theorists, “the mainstream media” to attempt to make the it more convincing. Ironic, since that same mainstream media, at every possible opportunity, is typically lambasted for not telling the truth.

The video clip contained in the post, from NBC Nightly News is a report about technology in 2017. Yet if you actually watch the clip, it is clear, from the introduction read by anchor Brian Williams, that the piece was produced in 2007 because he comes right out and says that the story is looking ahead to technology that will likely be available in 10 years. That one line should toss that “evidence” right out of the window, but that would require people to take the time to actually watch the clip and think for a moment before clicking “share” or “forward.”

RFID technology, for the record, doesn’t “track” every movement the way the scare claims. If your dog, for example, has a chip implanted, as all of mine have for years, and it happened to wander off, there’s no “data center” where one can call up a screen and pinpoint the exact location so you can collect your pet.

It’d be nice, but that’s Star Trek, not reality.

The point of RFID technology is that when a pet comes into an animal shelter, a scanner can read data stored on the chip — in the case of your pet, that’d be your name and contact information. In the case of the shoplifting tool, the only “tracking” that happens sends an alarm when an active chip passes by a scanner; when the customer pays for the tagged item, the chip is deactivated and no alarm goes off.

But go to your local bookstore and ask to see the big monitor where you can watch customers walk around with each individual book and monitor every step they take with it and watch the employee look at you like you’ve just stepped off a spaceship.

If we look at the practicality of medical records and data that could be stored on such a device, it’s not difficult to imagine beneficial scenarios for such technology. First responders, for example, could do a quick scan if a victim is found unconscious and learn in seconds about diagnosed conditions like diabetes or confirmed allergies that might prevent them from administering medication that could make a bad situation worse.

And there’d be no record of your whereabouts because the technology that wouldn’t already exist from the reports made the old-fashioned way by first responders filling out incident reports.

I see a lot of benefits from such implants, including the potential for much more efficient health care.

But regardless of what options NBC News reported might be possible seven years ago, it’s not likely such technology would be widely accepted.

It’s mostly because of ridiculous conspiracy theories like these false scares that continue to be transmitted on social media.

And more than that, it’s about the general public’s failure to use common sense to fact-check what they see before they rush to judgment.

Maybe one day more of that will start happening.

1 Comment

  1. I like the viral photo of Steven Spielberg in front of a dinosaur with a caption saying, “Disgraceful photo of recreational hunter happily posing next to a Triceratops he just slaughtered. Please share so the world can name and shame this despicable man.”

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.