QR Codes: Everything You Need to Know

You've probably seen a QR code - they're everywhere - a pixelated square printed on a business card, menu, or billboard. With the pandemic, their use has exploded as a contactless way to connect to and share information. From 2018 to 2020, there's been a 96% growth in reach - so QR codes are seeing exponential growth in our touch-free world. But what are they used for? 

QR codes are a type of barcode that a smartphone camera can read. A QR code can supply information or take the user to a website when scanned. We use QR codes to provide a link to a website, product information, or even contact information. This guide explains what QR codes are and how to use them. 

What are QR codes? 

QR Codes are a popular kind of two-dimensional barcode that stores data. QR is short for "Quick Response." A QR Code encodes alphanumeric information, which holds information using letters and numbers in a pixel format.

You use a scanner or even a QR Code app on your smartphone to read the data. QR codes work similarly to regular barcodes but contain a great deal more data, including video, social media, and audio.

QR codes contain information ranging from images to URLs and have become extremely popular in recent years. 

A (very) brief history of QR codes 

QR codes were invented in Japan in 1994 by Denso Wave, a subsidiary company of Toyota. They wanted to be able to track parts faster and more accurately. They developed the system to encode kana, kanji, and alphanumeric characters for quick scanning. 

They developed it so workers wouldn't need the perfect angle to scan the barcodes to save time. Barcodes can only be read from top to bottom, whereas QR codes read top to bottom and right to left, meaning they can store much more info than regular barcodes. 

The company made its new system available to all, and the increase in smartphone users saw QR code use explode - especially during the Covid pandemic. They have been used across Europe and Asia to track Covid outbreaks, contact tracing, and businesses seeking to reduce physical contact. 

How do I scan a QR code? 

There are two ways to scan: 

  • With a QR code handheld scanner - like those you see in stores 
  • With a QR scanning app or your phone - new phones have them inbuilt. 

With your smartphone app and an internet connection, use the camera function on your phone to capture the image and get the info you want. It's very straightforward: 

  1. Open the QR app or the camera on your smartphone. 
  2. Point it at the QR code – you can usually shoot from almost any angle and get the necessary information. Watch out for glare on windows if the code is up behind a window. 
  3. The information will appear on your screen immediately – i.e., if the QR code is contact details, your phone will download this without delay. 

Are QR codes safe? 

Unfortunately, cyber-criminals have heeded the popularity of QR codes and managed to cause all sorts of problems. Attacks are typical such as: 

  • Malware attacks 
  • Phishing attacks 
  • Bugs 
  • Financial Theft 

QR code security best practices 

QR codes are relatively safe and can't be hacked. The security risks are from where the QR code sends you. Hackers create malicious QR codes which send you to fake websites to capture your personal data. 

Here are five ways to mitigate the risks: 

1) Scan QR codes only from sources you trust.  

Protect yourself from hacks by checking the source. Does the logo appear legitimate? Does the code design match the brand's identity? 

2) Avoid using third-party apps to scan QR codes.  

All new smartphones come with a native QR code scanning capability within the camera app. 

3) Verify the website URL and SSL certificates. [Text Wrapping Break]Always confirm that the URL is correct and only click if you see that it's SSL certified when the lock shows. If you aren't confident these security measures are in place, don't engage in activity on the site — practice caution when entering personal or login information.

4) Regularly update your device's security.  

Install and regularly update your phone's security to maintain high levels of protection. Software patches and third-party security apps help ensure safety in the long run. It's also vital to have some third-party protection through strong anti-malware software. 

5) Be vigilant 

Pay close attention to the details when making online transactions with QR codes. You should look closely at the QR code to see if it has been swapped or messed with. If you find something is wrong with the QR code, it is best not to go ahead with that method, and you should find another way to complete the transaction.

Do QR codes collect your data? 

QR codes don't track you, but the websites you get taken to may do so. Make sure you trust the source because when you scan a QR code, the website could: 

  • Track your online activity using cookies. This can then be collected and forwarded to anyone without you knowing. 
  • See your metadata. Once you've scanned the QR code, the author can see where, when, and how many times you scanned it, the kind of operating system of your device, and your IP address. 
  • Get your personal data. QR codes can open an app or a website that asks you to enter your personal information. It might also take you to a website that asks for your financial data, such as your bank/ credit card number.

What are QR codes used for?  

As a marketer, QR codes help you target customers on the go and stand out from the crowd. QR codes can be used for a whole range of actions and reduce waste and excessive paper use: 

  • Social media 
  • Contact tracing during the pandemic 
  • Contactless payments 
  • Network sharing 
  • On product packaging for food - for example, recipes, menus, etc. 
  • Advertising - add your company's story or your vision to any posters or flyers 
  • Promotional coupons on tickets etc. 
  • Customer surveys 

There are pretty much limitless uses for QR codes. It is an excellent way to increase reach and improve your business while reducing your environmental footprint, as QR codes are small and can be attached to anything you think of. 

Static vs. Dynamic QR Codes 

There are two main kinds of QR codes: 

1) Static QR Codes 

Static QR codes are where target data is encoded directly into the code and cannot be modified once it's live. The more information encoded, the 'denser' the QR Code will become. The data is permanent and isn't editable, and it is impossible to track your users' scanning activity. Any typo or change in the URL will mean you'll need to print new ones. The advantage is that static codes don't expire. 

2) Dynamic QR Codes 

Dynamic QR Codes are more complex and deliver the ability to do so much more. The data isn't inside the QR code; you track and redirect the audience to the target URL. A restaurant could change the URL of its menu on its website. So, you can edit the data without needing to reprint the QR code labels. 

How to create a QR code 

Before creating your QR code, think of what you want your target audience to do: 

  1. Visit your website 
  2. Go to a text-based landing page 
  3. Listen to audio 
  4. Make payments 
  5. Watch video 
  6. Download a PDF 
  7. Follow you on social media

Whatever you want will determine the kind of QR code generator you wish to use. 

Head to QR-code-generator.com and follow these straightforward instructions to create your QR code. 

  1. Sign up for the service (free for static QR codes). 
  2. Enter your URL or data. Choose the Facebook Account or URL you want your visitors to go to. You can also choose from other content types, including PDFs, email accounts, MP3s, and Wi-Fi. 
  3. Choose a design and add your shape, colors, and logo. 
  4. Download your QR code as a JPG or SVG file. 

 

Here's one for Acer Corner: 

In short, QR codes are the way forward. QR codes are a great way to share information and connect with people and businesses. They are easy to create and scan, and they work well for a variety of purposes.

*The opinions reflected in this article are the sole opinions of the author and do not reflect any official positions or claims by Acer Inc.

About Malcolm Archibald: Malcolm is an SEO copywriter that helps businesses thrive. He's passionate about languages and helps companies improve traffic, bring in customers, and build a better web presence.


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