If you’ve returned to the restaurants and bars that have reopened in your neighborhood lately, you might have noticed a new addition to the post-quarantine decor: QR codes. Everywhere. And as they’ve become more ubiquitous on the dining scene, so has the quiet tracking and targeting that they do.
That’s according to a new analysis by the New York Times, that found these QR codes have the ability to collect customer data—enough to create what Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, called an “entire apparatus of online tracking,” that remembers who you are every time you sit down for a meal. While the data itself contains pretty uninteresting information, like your order history or contact information, it turns out there’s nothing stopping that data from being passed to whomever the establishment wants.
But as the Times piece points out, these little pieces of tech aren’t as innocuous as they might initially seem. Aside from storing data like menus or drink options, QR codes are often designed to transmit certain data about the person who scanned them in the first place—like their phone number or email address, along with how often the user might be scanning the code in question. This data collection comes with a few perks for the restaurants that use the codes (they know who their repeat customers are and what they might order). The only problem is that we actually don’t know where that data actually goes.
Note for ant fuckers: the QR code does not in fact “transmit” anything – a server behind it detects that you have visited it (if you follow a URL in the code) and then collects data based on what you do on the server, but also on the initial connection (eg location through IP address, URL parameters which can include location information, OS, browser type, etc etc etc)