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Be careful about clicking random QR codes

QR codes have been normalized during the COVID-19 pandemic but are they safe to click on?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Chances are, you've never thought about what's between your food and the QR code many restaurants force customers to use for access to their menu. 

So, should you be concerned about using them? QR code menus were hardly seen until the COVID-19 pandemic but that's all changed. These codes are handy, you don't have to wait for a menu anymore and you don't have to touch them, either.

They're convenient for sure, but are there privacy concerns about using them? You bet. QR codes are used to link us to sophisticated systems that also take our orders and charge bills. In fact, a QR code can be programmed to link to anything. 

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And that's where privacy comes into play. As for restaurants, the QR code you just shot is already tracking you. They can track customers unknowingly with when, where and how frequently you scan. 

QR code systems can activate cookies to track your purchase history, too. They're also used to capture your name, phone number and credit card information to save to a database. In some systems,  your data is offered to other establishments. 

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The big problem here is that the vast majority of QR code systems lack any clear privacy controls for customers to opt out. The use of QR codes is unlikely to slow down even after people learn how their data can be manipulated. After all, customers enjoy the speed and ease of QR codes, and the letters come from "quick response." 

Restaurants are seeing the benefits to their bottom line because QR code menus reduce labor costs by up to 50% since servers don't need to be taking orders and payments. Are they bad? Not necessarily, but just know it's one more thing on your phone that might be tracking you. 

WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to the Defenders team by emailing money@wcnc.com.

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