Debunking QR Codes: The Complete Guide

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The use of QR (quick response) codes was declining in the United States from 2018 to 2020. Only until recently, QR codes have become ubiquitous in the wake of the pandemic when many small businesses, start-ups and corporations were forced to accelerate their digital transformation, mostly as a matter of survival.

If you have left the house during the pandemic, you have most likely seen or scanned a QR code. Popular uses include scanning these codes on restaurant tables, allowing diners to access a digital menu on their mobile phones, or scanning codes at vaccination sites, allowing patients to sign up for same-day appointments. While these codes may be ubiquitous, few users truly understand what the codes are, and the history of their conception.

What is a QR code?

A QR code image is typically made up of black and white box patterns in a square grid. However, it is possible to customize a code’s physical image according to one’s preferences (in some cases, you’ll see branded QR codes that include a brand’s colours and logo). The first code was generated in 1994 by its inventor Masahiro Hara, who was an engineer at Japanese company Denso Wave (a former subsidiary of Denso, a major player in the automotive industry and a supplier to Toyota Motor Corporation).

Originally generated to streamline car part production in Japan, these codes were quickly adopted beyond the automotive industry due to its fast readability and greater storage capacity as compared to the more common standard barcode. In this regard, you may easily scan a code and gain quick access to the information embedded within the code when it was generated.

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Masahiro Hara continues to be proud to see QR codes “supporting the safety and security of our society” during the pandemic.

How do I scan a QR code?

The iPhone’s iOS 11 software update in 2017 ushered in a wider adoption of QR codes, enabling its users to easily scan a code with their phone cameras: If your mobile device has a built-in QR code scanner like the latest iPhone model, you may easily scan a code by opening the camera and pointing it towards the code for a couple of seconds until a notification pops up and informs you that a code has been successfully scanned, with a link to complete an action (e.g. open a page on your default internet browser).

It must be noted that not all phones are equipped with this feature. For older models without this capability, you can quickly search the App Store (for iOS), or the Play Store (for Android) – where a wide range of QR code scanning apps are available, usually for free.

What are the two types of QR codes?

The popularity of QR codes is due to its versatility. There are two types of QR codes – static QR codes and dynamic QR codes. The difference lies in whether or not the destination URL may be changed.

1. Static QR codes

Static codes are your most basic and common QR code. They allow you to create a simple code with a single destination, which cannot be altered once generated. These work well for use cases where you do not require any alterations in the future – for example, opening a direct link to your business’s website homepage where the URL wouldn’t change in the future.

The biggest benefit of a static QR code is that you can generate them for free, using sites such as QR-Code Monkey, where you get a wide range of destinations to choose from for free.

2. Dynamic QR codes

Dynamic codes allow more features than static. As the name suggests, they are dynamic – meaning that you can update the destination at any point.

Dynamic QR codes are best for businesses that use the codes frequently. An example of this would be a restaurant sharing their menu via the code, which may change from month to month, or a bar that uses a QR code to promote future events.

An additional difference, and a huge benefit of dynamic codes is that businesses can track data such as the number of total scans, average number of scans per day, location of scans, time of scans, and the device’s operating system. In this regard, a marketer may find such data useful when evaluating the success of a particular marketing campaign.

The only drawback of dynamic codes is that they are not free, as a service is required to manage and track the scans of the code. Companies such as QRCode Studio offer flexible pricing structures, that work with your requirements.

What happens when I scan a QR code?

Scanning a QR code may result in different outcomes when scanned. Most commonly, scanning a code will open a URL to a webpage.

In other cases, organizations may create codes to create a digital business card with a phone number that can be saved on a customer’s phone, to display text in any language, to send a predefined text message any number, to send an email with a predefined message to any email address, to connect to a WiFi network without typing a password, to post a tweet, and to request cryptocurrency payments.

Most common QR code destinations

  1. Open a website or specific URL (e.g. to a business website)
  2. Open a simple page with text written on it (e.g. to detail a business’s opening times)
  3. Compose a new email, using a pre-defined email address, subject line and also body text (e.g. if you were applying to a job vacancy)
  4. Open your phone with a pre-entered telephone number (e.g. to call the person in charge quickly)
  5. Create a new contact in your phone (e.g. to quickly save a new business contact, with their name, email, phone number, email address and more)
  6. Open a location in either Google Maps or your default maps application (e.g. to find the location of a local business)
  7. Securely access a new Wi-Fi network near you (e.g. when visiting a friend’s house, and needing to access their Wi-Fi- network)

Here at eTip, we create QR codes for businesses and their employees to make it easier for their customers to leave them a tip, in an increasingly touchless world. According to MobileIron’s QR Code Sentiment Survey Results from September 2020, as many as two-thirds of the respondents agree that these QR code generators “make life easier in a touchless world,” whereas only eight percent disagree with this sentiment.

Are QR codes safe and secure?

While a majority find QR codes make life easier, some users do have concerns.

Biggest concerns about QR code safety

  • Users don’t know what information they are going to be providing
  • Users don’t trust where the QR code has come from
  • Users are concerned about making payments they did not want

How eTip protects your data and keeps you safe QR codes are static codes, generated purely for individual tipping profiles, where you can make safe & secure payments using trusted and widely used payment processors.

The profiles are securely generated by our platform, meaning the users don’t control anything that’s presented to the user (other than providing their name, and some basic information about themselves to be displayed on their profile). So you can rest assured knowing your payments and data are safe when using eTip to make cashless tips.

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