It is a dreaded sight: a QR code taped to, or propped up with a little card holder at, your restaurant table. Now you have to look at your phone, which you were hoping to not do for at least one hour. Now you have to hope you have decent cell service. Now you have to hope your phone has sufficient battery life. And now, at some restaurants, you have to order your dinner through your small handheld computer like you are a throwaway character in some sort of dystopian science fiction story.
What started out as an effort to allow workers and diners to feel safer during the pandemic will almost certainly persist, says a recent New York Times article. This is because QR codes both spare consumers the dreaded task of human interaction and employers the dreaded task of having to employ people, but also because — in a conclusion one might come to after spending a few moments on thought on the idea — QR codes allow malevolent forces to steal your data and money. And why would they want to give that up!
“People don’t understand that when you use a QR code, it inserts the entire apparatus of online tracking between you and your meal,” Jay Stanley told the Times (Jay Stanley is a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union). “Suddenly your offline activity of sitting down for a meal has become part of the online advertising empire.”
QR codes gained popularity in the US due to the pandemic, as an at least optically “safer” choice. But of course, says the Times, the codes are a way for brands and restaurants to track spending and to upsell; to advertise, and to target those advertisements to your spending and scanning history; to potentially sell all of this information to third parties. Lucy Bernholz, the director of Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab, told the paper that QR codes are “an important first step toward making your experience in physical space outside of your home feel just like being tracked by Google on your screen.”
And because of that, they will likely never die, even though we have regained the emotional ability to handle physical objects in public. God, I hate QR codes so much. Cell phone bullshit. I hate it!