Biometric tattoos used to monitor health provoke privacy concerns

Tattoos may soon be prized for reasons beyond their aesthetic appeal. Chaotic Moon, a software design firm based in Austin, Texas, is now developing an archetype for tech tats, tattoos which could turn a piece of body art into a health monitor.

The software design firm is developing a biometric tattoo capable of gathering and transferring health information to medical staff the same way a Jawbone or Apple watch works. Unlike implants or wearable devices, however, biometric devices are applied on the skin as a temporary tattoo. They are capable of monitoring the user’s heart rate, location and body temperature.

Unlike traditional tattoos, a biometric tattoo isn’t touted as a piece of art. Instead, they could be used to help keep track of children in crowded areas or to make payments through PayPal. In addition, the military could also use this technology to keep track of soldiers on the battlefield and alert authorities when the user has been exposed to biological agents.

Melding art into technology

“This is really going beyond what the fitness tracker is,” Eric Schneider, creative technologist for Chaotic Moon, told sources. “This is something you can put on your body once a year that monitors everything [a clinic] would do in a physical, and sends that to your doctor. If there’s an issue, they could just call you.”[1]

In theory, this technology could be used by the army to track servicemen captured by enemies. Nevertheless, since the tech tat would be temporary, rather than permanent, it’s still unclear whether it could function as an efficient, long-term tracking device.

“This is the new wearable,” CEO Ben Lamm told TechCrunch. “The future of wearables is biowearables. This is not something that can be easily removed like a Fitbit. It can be underneath a flack jacket, directly on the skin to be collecting this data and being reported back,” he added.[2]

Chaotic Moon is best known for their fire-breathing drones and bitcoin earnings fitness trackers. Among all the devices developed by Chaotic Moon, however, Lamm says the tech tat was the most fun to work on.

“We get to do a lot of cool stuff at Chaotic Moon, but with this we think there’s military applications for it, health applications for it and there are all kinds of opportunities around it,” he said.[2]

While biometric tattoos sound revolutionary, they are not the first of their kind. Cyberpunks, also known as grinders, belong to a subculture of people who take pleasure in mutilating their bodies with implants. They have long seized on technology similar to tech tats.

Most grind culture centers specialize in surgically cutting open the body, inserting a magnet or RFID chip and then sewing it back up. It should therefore come as no surprise that biometric tattoos may have found support in the underground community.

Tim Cannon, head of the GrindHouse Wetware, says he is familiar with the idea of biometric tattoos. “Yeah, I have seen some stick on NFC stuff,” he told TechCrunch over Facebook. He went on to mention efforts have been made to create permanent biometric tattoos for constant monitoring and tracking. Thus far, however, no permanent ink which poses no threat to human health has been developed.[2]

Weighing the pros and cons of tech tats

Permanent ink has its own controversies. Nevertheless, even temporary tech tat ink kindles privacy and medical concerns, as well. According to Lamm, these are issues consumers, rather than the company, should ponder when deciding whether to purchase a biometric tattoo.

“At the end of the day, there’s all sorts of firms out there like cell phone companies and drug companies and medical device companies that work through those processes,” he said.[2]

“For us, we’re trying to start a conversation around ‘hey you’ve already had these types of data collection components on your body.’ A lot of times they are big, they are bulky and they can be limiting. Now we’re looking at changing and evolving with these other types of conductive ink.”[2]

Although Lamm believes the decision ultimately falls on the shoulders of the customer, he thinks temporary biometric tattoos are more efficient than permanent ones. The kits are also less expensive and easier to sport than other wearable technologies.

At present, however, biometric tattoos are still in the preliminary stages of development. Chaotic Moon is currently working with strategic partners to make biometric tattoos a reality in the near future.[3]

Sources include:




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