13-01-2021 | | By Sam Brown
Recently, a beauty salon in Dubai has unenvied the countries first microchip in a manicure. What does the novel procedure enable, how is such technology replacing paper, and what issues can such devices suffer from?
The introduction of electronics has changed the world far greater than any other technological development. From the ability to cheaply light homes to calculate pi to a billion places, electronics plays a critical role in modern life. The same applies to the office environment; what used to be dominated by paper, and many workers have now been reduced to fewer computers.
Interestingly, the introduction of the computer had many believe that paper would be quickly made redundant. However, the truth was that the use of computers in the office place increased the use of paper as printers could print any information needed, and reading of the paper is far more comfortable for the eyes.
But, modern advances in electronics are starting to affect paper consumption, and the use of paper-based products. Some items on the chopping block include business cards (now being replaced with WhatsApp and other messaging services), money, and bills.
Recently, a salon in Dubai, Lanour Beauty Lounge, announced that it is now offering customers nail manicures with a tech twist. The beauty salon, which does everything from nails to hair-removal, also provides customers with the option with an embedded microchip on their nail.
The manicure involves placing an NFC chip onto the nail, which is then covered in a gel solution. From there, the nail can be decorated as usual, whether it is glitter or basic colour. The NFC device can store basic information, whether it be a phone number, email address, name, or unique ID.
One of the major advantages of such an application is that it gives customers the option to be integrated with a microchip without an invasive procedure (i.e. traditional microchips inserted into the hand). Furthermore, such microchips also remove the possibility of biological rejection which is a common danger for any implant.
NFC is a technology used in many wireless applications including contactless cards, Dubai toll gates for vehicles, and ID cards for building access. Such chips are incredibly basic and small, but the antenna's size defines the distance which the device operates. In the case of the nail chip, the small antenna gives the device a range of a few cm to make it ideal for transferring information between phones and terminals with the point of a finger.
The use of such implanted chips could benefit the environment thanks to the reduction in paper waste if used as a business card. However, as with most implanted devices, privacy concerns become an issue, especially when using a technology such as NFC designed to advertise its information.
While the information held on such a device is benign, unique information allows it to be used in tracking scenarios. The device developers say that since the NFC chip is unpowered (i.e. only powered when near another NFC device), it cannot broadcast location data. However, in theory, a powerful NFC transmitter could power the device, and the use of a telescopic antenna may even be able to both provide power and receive data.
Furthermore, the use of such microchips could also lead to identity theft, whereby criminals only have to walk past wearing an NFC transmitter to download information. However, this would only make sense assuming the chip's data contains private data (which it most likely won’t).
The use of a fingernail microchip provides some great conveniences, but carrying any device that can transmit information wirelessly opens up the possibility of being tracked or identified against the users' will. Currently, this device is a novelty that allows smart business users to show off an embedded chip, but it may be open to abuse if it becomes widespread.