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  • Writer's picturePeter DiSilvio

Are Your Pancakes Watching You and Other Fun Questions

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

COVID has changed many things about our way of life. Masks have become common, going to the movies has become rare, and hugs are few and far between. Another change, which you may or may not have noticed, is the movement away from traditional menus at restaurants. Instead of being handed a, usually laminated, piece of paper many venues are instead opting to ask for you to scan a QR code with your phone. However, almost none of these businesses expressly state what you may be sharing when you do.

A quick response code, or QR code for short, is a image that connects to a URL. Half of all full-service restaurants in the US have opted for QR code menus since the beginning of the pandemic, per the National Restaurant Association. While a barcode usually contains information within it for the machine that reads it, QR codes often access and opens an application on the users phone. Once the application is open it usually connects to the internet.


One can see immediately why a restaurant would love having technology like this at their disposal. For one thing, they no longer need to worry about cleaning their menus in the age of a pandemic because the menus are purely digital. Further, the page the QR code connects to can be updated in real time. Having a purely digital menu also eliminates the need to print new menus in the future.


While these benefits are obvious, there are some that are not including the one most dangerous and most ripe for abuse.


Mom, The Dessert Is Looking At Me

QR codes track when, where, and how often you scan them which means a business can better track its customers. This allows for more targeted ads, especially when that data is sold to big tech to create a more full profile of your online habits.

As Morning Brew reported, Privacy experts warn that rules largely don’t exist to dictate what restaurants can and can’t do with that info, like, say, sell it to a third-party delivery app that desperately wants to send you notifications about ordering [1].


The technology was already under fire from Worker's Rights Advocates who have argued that QR codes, self-serve kiosks, and other automated systems are depriving people of work and employees of leverage. However, the added security concerns of being tracked, no matter the reason, cannot be ignored. Is it no wonder then that QR code scams are on the rise [2]?


How To Blind the Beast

If your concerned about companies tracking your activities more than they already do, this innovation has to give you pause. The only way to protect yourself is simply to ask for a paper menu. If the restaurant cannot or will not provide one, you may have to consider going somewhere else.


Looking at the issue from a larger perspective, the only way to be safe from this kind of intrusion is to outlaw it in the first place. Even as we speak the European Union is debate new rules and regulations regarding the collection and sharing of users data by social media companies. Should the United States not also consider stricter safeguards on their citizens data?


Sadly, Washington seems unable to unwilling to even discuss the issue of data collection much less address it. Perhaps this is because both major political parties collect a ton of information on voters and routinely put the fruits of that data to use with targeted mailings, personalized advertisements, and even gerrymandering.


Finding a solution, if there is one, will likely rest on the shoulders of future leaders who themselves have been tracked and targeted their entire lives. Only when the people effected by a policy, or lack of policy, are aware of what is happening can they possibly begin to combat it.

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