How (not) to use QR codes

By Cody Crawford

This past Christmas, Justin and I were in the process of getting married.  We decided to do our Christmas shopping together, and he had a grand idea.  Instead of marking gifts with the classic sticker labels (To: Mom, From: Justin & Cody xoxo), why not use QR codes instead?

For those of you who may not know, QR codes are a type of 2D barcode.  They were invented in Japan and can hold much more

QR code Validity Magazine

information than traditional 1D barcodes.  While 1D barcodes can hold 20 numbers maximum, QR codes can hold long messages, URL, and any other text-based communication.  QR stands for Quick Response, meaning that the code can be read quickly with a scanner.

So Justin and I went to and made custom QR codes that held special messages for each one of our friends and family members.  All of our packages were soon wrapped, and each package had one QR code on it.

All the gifts looked the same! Every time we wanted to know the intended recipient, we had to get out my smartphone, scan the code and wait for the app to load the special message.  We realized that it would have been much easier to buy the sticker labels, so we could actually read them the old-fashioned way:  with our eyes.  So much for the Quick Response.

QR codes, although not so useful for Christmas gift labeling, are useful in many other cases.  QR code readers are available for almost every smartphone or tablet on the market, so millions of people have access to QR code content.  And since QR codes can hold so much more information than traditional barcodes, they can link consumers to websites, surveys or downloads.  QR codes are a cool way to advertise a business or product.

QR codes are becoming widely-used as more applications for them are created.  Companies such as LevelUp and Kuapay allow consumers to use their credit cards to generate a custom QR code for buying things.  Starbucks lets customers with smartphones pay for coffee with the codes.  Many people are printing custom QR codes on business cards and posters.  One company makes personalized T-shirts with QR codes on them – when someone scans your T-shirt, it adds them as your friend on Facebook.

The use of QR codes is widespread, but many people think they are clunky.  In an article on, QR codes are described as follows: “The glitchy glyphs, which are generally used as a clumsy way to link physical media to the web, are regarded by many as the ugliest thing seen in black and white since D.W. Griffiths,’ Birth of a Nation.”  Wow! That’s pretty bad.  The article goes on to describe how to bypass using QR codes.

Others think QR codes are dangerous to use.  According to an article on, malware for QR codes is becoming more prevalent.  Since consumers don’t know what they are scanning before they scan it, QR codes could be an easy way for hackers to gain access to personal information or download a virus onto a device.

The security risks involved with using QR codes to pay with a credit card are obvious.  As with any technology, QR code scanning comes with its fair share of uncharted territory.  The SeattlePI article discusses a solution to the QR code malware problem.  Unfortunately, it requires users to create a VPN (virtual private network) to every internet site they visit, as well as pay a subscription fee.  The technology required to bridge the online/offline gap is still being developed.  QR codes may not be the be-all, end-all solution.  I know from experience that they are not the solution for labeling Christmas gifts.

How do you use QR codes? Please let us know with a comment below.  And print your own custom QR code for something silly and show all your friends how cool you are.



Cody Crawford holds a degree in Computer Engineering Technology from Middle Tennessee State University and is employed by a consumer electronics company in Nashville, TN.



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