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Top 10: Wisconsin company gets worldwide coverage of "chip party"

A poster at a chip event at Three Square Market in August shows what the chip itself looks like. The chip uses RFID technology similar to that used by credit cards and cell phone purchases. File photo1 / 3
Tony Danna uses his newly-implanted chip in the Three Square Market break room in August. Danna was one of about 50 employees who had RFID chips placed in their hands. File photo2 / 3
Lead Developer Sam Bengtson shows off his hand where a chip was just implanted at a chip party at Three Square Market on Tuesday, Aug. 1. Bengston told reporters he thinks the technology will become more widespread. File photo3 / 3

The world seemed to come to River Falls in August, filling into the Sterling Ponds Business Park with Three Square Market as its destination.

Normally when the River Falls Journal heads out to cover local stories, we're one of the few, occasionally the only, media on site. We're typically joined by Falcon News Service, WEVR or community television. Sometimes we'll run into the people from Eau Claire or the Twin Cities TV names.

This time, things were different. News that Three Square Market would be "chipping" volunteering employees spread quickly. Media from around the country and from other parts of the world packed into the makeshift press room, subtly fighting for camera space and the best shot. The Today Show, BBC, USA Today and more all had coverage of the event. I even ended up in the background of a few photos and videos—a reporter's nightmare.

About 50 employees in total had the microchip implanted into their hands, and that day we got to witness a handful of them going through the process. A syringe was used to implant the chip just below the skin between the thumb and forefinger. The process took about two seconds, and according to a few employees, was practically painless.

"I mean I honestly didn't even feel it," said Sam Bengtson, one of the lead developers on the project.

The chip uses RFID technology, the same as used in credit card and cell phone purchases. Most of the technology, however, comes from outside programming and devices.

Although about half of the employees volunteered for the chipping, many also decided not to do it. These employees are using wristbands or smart rings instead.

"I'd just like to know more about the long-term health effects," market executive Katie Langer said, explaining why she opted not to get chipped. Though the chip is FDA-approved, she said she still had concerns.

A software engineering company, Three Square Market chose to offer the microchipping to its employees as a way to further understand its potential market options.

"We need to master this ourselves if we're going to take it to market," President Patrick McMullan said.

The chip event drew a large response online, especially on social media. Many commenters on the River Falls Facebook page said they would not get chipped, or were concerned about tracking. The chips however are not GPS-enabled, and the company said it will not collect or sell information from the chips or use it to make sure employees are doing their jobs.

"We're going to be responsible, we're going to be respectful," McMullan said.

Today at Three Square Market, employees are using the chips to enter the buildings, log into their computers and buy food in the breakroom.

"We're really just having fun with it right now," said CEO Todd Westby.

As for possible future uses, Three Square Market told reporters in August it was working on a variety of ideas. McMullan said the company had received more than a hundred inquiries from groups including banks, hospitals and foreign government security.

"We're just really getting into what it can do," Westby said.

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