You may have seen or heard about QR codes that have become increasingly popular over the past few decades. These scanning codes are a smart way to restrict access to confidential documents, government offices, or businesses.
They are also efficient in brand promotion, customer protection, and financial transactions. However, while these high-tech add-ons may be the best way to speed up business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-customer (B2C) interactions, they still have several basics that everyone should know before adopting them.
Therefore, this article explains everything about QR codes, including their benefits, risks, and how to use them.
What is a QR Code?
A quick response (QR) code is a two-dimensional or square-shaped black-and-white barcode form that conveys a wide range of information when scanned with a digital device. The code stores vital information about a product, service, or business and instantly conveys it when scanned.
Traditionally, QR codes were used in brand marketing and advertising campaigns. They have grown technically to store content, coupons, links, event details, and other critical information users need.
They became especially popular during the Covid-19 pandemic after many restaurants switched to virtual menus. According to ExpressVPN, over half of the restaurants in the US already use QR code menus, and they are particularly popular among younger generations who are more interested in embracing new technologies.
A QR code can hold up to 4296 characters or 7089 digits, including special symbols and punctuation marks. It can also encode phrases such as Internet addresses, allowing users to access restricted websites, watch videos, and purchase products.
However, one thing to note about QR codes is that not all are square-shaped, and their sizes and structures depend on how much information they hold. That means the more information they store, the more complex their structure becomes.
QR Codes Brief History
The first quick response (QR) code was invented in 1994 by Marahiro Hara of Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary manufacturing company. At that time, the company wanted a faster, stronger, and more convenient system to process more characters and track vehicles and automotive parts.
That pushed Masahiro and the team to develop a type of barcode that could encode characters and store vital information.
The challenge, however, was that the barcodes were one-directional and could only store a small amount of information in an alphanumeric formation. To increase the amount of data stored, the team needed two-directional codes to encode characters faster, preventing false recognition once the shape and position detection pattern was added.
This led to the invention of unique QR codes that could read information in two directions: bottom to top and right to left. The team also spent more time surveying the white and black areas of the code and identified their ratio to be 1:1:3:1:1. Through this ratio, they could determine the white and black areas in the position detection pattern, which allows scanning devices to detect the code regardless of the angle.
This, spearheaded by inventions of other smart devices, made QR codes available to everyone, which allows them to be used anywhere for personal and business purposes.
The Anatomy of a QR Code
While most people see QR codes as pixelated images, each part of the code has a vital function in information sharing. In simple words, a standard QR code has the following parts and their functions:
Position detection markers
Positioning detection markers are located at three corners of the code, allowing digital scanners to recognize and read the code quickly. They also indicate the presence of a QR code and in which direction it is printed.
These are smaller than position detection markers and help to straighten QR codes drawn on curved surfaces. The size and position of alignment markings depend on the amount of information stored in the code.
These black or white modules help configure the data grid accurately. Timing patterns also determine how large the data matrix is.
Format patterns store error tolerance information and data mask patterns. They also make it easier for digital devices to scan QR codes.
Version markers specify which version of the QR code is being used. There are about 40 versions, the most common being version 1 to 7.
Data and error correction keys
Error correction keys store all the data in the QR codes and are found alongside error correction blocks that damage almost 30% of the code.
The quiet zone, similar to white space, improves the structure and comprehension of the code. The zone is vital during scanning and distinguishes the QR code from its surrounding elements.
How to Use QR Codes Safely
While there are several benefits and risks of using QR codes, their overall safety depends on how one uses them. For instance, from a technical point of view, the security concerns associated with QR codes come from the destination, not the code itself.
Hackers can create malicious QR codes that send end users to risky websites and steal their vital data. Therefore, users are advised to use only QR codes from trusted businesses to avoid such incidences as data loss or access to other credentials.
The digital train is fast-paced, and the world is experiencing new inventions every day. A few decades ago, people only depended entirely on contact transactions to access online services, make purchases, and even for entertainment. This was quickly replaced by contactless transactions, including QR codes, especially after Covid-19 hit the globe.
The adoption of QR codes, however, was not as easy as many people might think. From the start, people needed to download different applications to scan the codes before the emergence of smart devices that can read QR codes using standard built-in camera apps.
That means, while the new system still faces various challenges, its continued advancement will see more people adopt it, and the world will have safer, more efficient, and innovative QR code uses.