What Parents Should Know About Codes You Read With Your Smart Phone

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Above, example of a QR code.

If you are one of the many people out there who are still wondering what those square barcode looking images are, the ones that are full of black pixels,  and which look like some kind of blurry image, then you’re not alone.  The square boxes that say “scan me with your smart phone” are indeed a kind of barcode, called a QR code. What is a QR code? It stands for Quick Response code, and is a two dimensional code which can contain over 4,298 alphanumeric characters, depending on the version. The denser  the pattern of horizontal and vertical lines is, the more information the image contains.

This system was developed in 1994 by the Japanese company Denso – Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota, for use in a parts  inventory tracking system.

What Are Those Funny Symbols That You Scan With Your Phone Used For?

Let’s say you have a smart phone such as an iPhone. To get started using these new symbols you would add a new app, called a QR code reader. Once the app is installed  you would simply point your phone’s camera lens at one of these codes in a magazine, etc.,  and then you would be shown on your phone’s screen the  information that it contained. For example, there is one of these codes on the Toshiba laptop that I am using as I write this article. Using an app called QRReader, I simply aim my phone at the QR code, wait about a second until it acquires the code, beeps, and then I am directed to Toshiba’s website to a page with information about my specific laptop. This same process, of scanning these strange symbols with your smart phone  could have directed me to information about the movie featured on a poster, to a video clip on YouTube, an opinion poll, discount coupon, a shopping site, Facebook page, or just about anything on the web that you could imagine.

There are lots of free QR code generators online, and anyone can make their own QR code in a matter of seconds. For example, I just made one which directs you to this article. It is shown in the upper left hand corner of this article. If you scan this symbol with your smartphone, your internet browser will be directed to this same article. Unlike near field communication chips, or RFID chips, which do sort of the same thing, anybody can make these symbols for free.

There are even companies that make ID bracelets, necklaces, shirts, etc., which can be worn by kids, and which can direct a new friend’s smartphone browser  to their page on a social networking site such as Myspace, etc.  Adults can use them to direct people they encounter to a dating site profile or company website. QR codes on  name tags at conventions and conferences will probably become  commonplace in the coming decade.   These symbols are so easily read that a Japanese company called Sinap Co, recently made a QR code out of sand on the beach, which could be read by smartphones. There have even been marriage proposals done via QR codes.

What Parents Should Know About QR Codes

Technology has opened up both incredible opportunities and a multitude of dangers for today’s generation. Today’s kids are faced with having to digest and deal with an incredible volume of information on a daily basis.  It’s important as a parent that you understand, at least on some level, what kinds of technologies your children are interacting with.  As innovations like QR codes inevitably become a part of everything from clothes to tattoo’s, magazine ads and even jewelry, parents should become more knowledgeable about them. You should be aware of what your child is sharing with the rest of the world, and then determine if that information could in any way endanger them. For example, if your child is sharing their Facebook page, personal information, phone number,  etc., via a QR code (or similar technology), displayed on them or their property, they may be allowing all kinds of  unsavory people into their lives.  A QR code worn on the body or displayed on personal effects can even be read from a crowd photo, surveillance camera or even through a telephoto lens from faraway.  By using them as a “name tag” for the rest of the world to view, your child has given up the very anonymity that may serve to protect them from all sorts of bad people.  As QR codes become more commonplace in our children’s lives, parents need to be aware of how they are being used. In addition to the personal display of QR codes by kids, there are other risks as more kids use smartphones. Since anyone can easily make  QR code stickers, then slap them up in public places like restrooms, or display them on web pages, your child may be directed to any kind of website, image or text that you could imagine. You can’t tell what site a QR code will take to to until you scan it, so non tech-savvy adults may not see the image as a threat. A child using a smartphone can scan one of these images, then “Bam”, in half a second they are browsing whatever site it links to or reading the text  it causes to be displayed on their phone. Schools will most likely start to ban the display of QR codes by students if they become a distraction.

Are QR Codes Here To Stay?

QR codes are one of those little things that will eventually creep into all of our lives and achieve a place next to other technology that we use daily, such as RFID tags and UPC barcodes.  The U.S. has been slow to adopt them, but these codes are already a part of everyday life in Japan, South Korea and Europe.

How widely they will become adopted by the public in the United States depends on whether or not those who scan them continue to get value from doing so. If they are not directed to a helpful website, meaningful discount, etc. consumers will begin grow tired of them.  My guess is that they will find their niche in our already tech saturated society, and fill the need for a quick exchange of information about all kinds things that we come into contact with on a daily basis.  They’re here to stay, until a better technology comes along.

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