A quick response (QR) code is a barcode that appears in a square pattern and stores encoded data. It can also be considered a data storage medium, like a thumb drive, used to create digital marketing entities on physical objects through rapid mobile web services. 

When a user scans with a QR code reader, they gain immediate access to the content a QR code encodes, which will then trigger an action. These include opening a specific URL in the user’s web browser, automatically checking in to a location, or connecting to a wireless network. QR codes are usually used to store American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) text but can also store binary code.

QR codes were first created in 1994 by Denso Wave, a subsidiary of the Japanese firm Toyota Group, and quickly became a standard in Japan through the early 2000s. They expanded into use across the USA and Europe in 2010. QR barcode generation is now increasingly common because QR codes are easy for people to scan using their smartphones, which then open up webpages, check the user in to locations, and unlock special offers from flyers, magazines, posters, and more.

What are the Types of QR Codes?

QR codes are used for a wide variety of purposes, and multiple types of QR code images are created to carry out different actions through smartphones.

Common types of QR codes include:

  1. QR Code Model 1 and Model 2: These are the regular QR codes that appear in cafes and shops and in magazines for marketing purposes. They include common QR codes that can be used to encode data for Google Maps locations, image galleries, Portable Document Formats (PDFs), Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), and vCards or electronic business cards. Model 1 QR Codes can store up to 1,167 numerals while Model 2 can store up to 7,089.
  2. Micro QR Code: A Micro QR Code only contains one position detection pattern rather than the three on regular QR codes, which makes it easy to print on small surfaces. It encodes letters or numbers of up to 2,335 characters in length and is typically used on food packaging.
  3. Data Matrix: A Data Matrix QR Code encodes text or numeric data up to 1,556 bytes and up to 2,335 characters in length.
  4. iQR Code: An iQR Code can be either square or rectangular and printed in dot pattern, inversion, or turned-over code. It can store up to 40,000 numerals.
  5. SQRC Code: An SQRC Code looks the same as regular QR codes but is restricted to storing confidential information.
  6. FrameQR Code: A FrameQR Code contains a frame area that can be used to store images and letters for promotional activities.
  7. HCC2D Code: The High-Capacity Colored 2-Dimensional (HCC2D) Code is a proposed format that increases data density and enables QR codes to handle chromatic distortions.

Other types and usages of QR codes include the following:

Screenshot QR Code Generator

There are many applications that help smartphone users read QR codes, but the simplest way to use them is to open up the phone’s camera and point it at a QR code. The phone will automatically screenshot and decrypt the code, taking the user to the information encoded by the QR code.

Website QR Code

This type of QR code generation will automatically send the user that scanned the QR code to a specific webpage. Website QR codes are the most common type of QR code. They are a simple method for brands to take users to their websites or products they want them to engage with or purchase.

Business Card QR Code

A business card QR code is a form of vCard code. A user can put all their contact details—such as their business name and location, email address, and social media profiles—into a QR code generator, then use the vCard to share their personal details with new contacts. These are useful as they enable users to update their information at any time without having to reprint business cards. They make it easy for customers to find business information, and they can generate leads when placed on marketing material.

Wi-Fi QR Code

Wi-Fi QR codes enable a user to connect to a Wi-Fi network without requiring them to enter its name or passcode. This can be useful as it removes the hassle of entering passwords. The user simply scans the QR code to get online. However, it is vital to only connect to trusted Wi-Fi networks using QR codes.

SMS QR Code

Short Message Service (SMS) QR codes can be used to send a specific text message to users. They are typically used by organizations like banks, retailers, and restaurants in place of posters and often carry higher conversion rates.

Email QR Code

Email QR codes work in the same way as SMS QR codes, only they enable the sharing of content to email addresses.

Scan-to-Call QR Code

Scan-to-call QR Codes enable users to make a phone call without dialing a number. They are often placed on advertisements, billboards, inside stores, or on products for customer support.

App Store QR Code

An app store QR code works in the same way as a URL code, only it takes a user to the app store of their mobile device, such as the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

Event QR Code

Event QR codes enable organizers to help attendees add events to their calendars, provide more details and location information about the event, and sell additional products such as VIP passes. They can also be used to sell exclusive content, provide information about special offers, and enable cashless payments at events.

Geocode

Geocode QR codes enable the sharing of a specific location. The QR code creator enters the latitude and longitude coordinates of the location, and when scanned, the user can easily discover the location using their favorite maps application.

Text Code

Text codes are the simplest form of QR code. Raw text gets encoded within the QR code, and when the code is scanned, the original text will be displayed on the user’s screen.

Dynamic QR Code

All of the QR code types listed above can be used for a single purpose or in one-off campaigns. However, dynamic QR codes can be edited to update the details of an event or change the URL users are sent to.

Dynamic QR Code vs. Static QR Code

As alluded to above, the data and information static QR codes encode cannot be edited or updated once they have been generated. Static QR codes are typically used for website QR codes, event QR codes, and Wi-Fi QR codes. They are beneficial for use in vCards or email signatures, organizations running one-off marketing promotions, or one-time events and campaigns. If the data protected by the QR code will not be changed or only contains minimal information, then it is best to use a static QR code.

However, if the information stored within a QR code is changeable or is part of an ongoing campaign, then it may be better to use dynamic QR codes. A dynamic QR code can measure and track the success of marketing campaigns and enable necessary adjustments. Businesses can also use dynamic QR codes to connect their offline and online marketing efforts, track customer preferences, and enhance customer experience.

Ways in Which QR Codes are Used

Engage Target Audiences with Promotions

QR codes are commonly used to help organizations send promotions and special offers to customers. They are ideal for engaging customers and sending personalized promotions.

Make or Accept Mobile Payments

QR codes can be used for mobile payments by scanning a code at a shop checkout, on individual products, paper bills, or on websites. QR codes can also be used for in-store payments by opening a payment application, which then displays a unique QR code that can be scanned by a store to finalize a transaction. They can also be used in app-to-app payments between two individuals.

Make Citizens' Lives Easier

QR codes simplify record-keeping to make people's lives easier. For example, healthcare providers can use QR codes to identify patients, keep track of their medical history and medicine deliveries, and identify telltale signs of disease or illness. This is more efficient and easier than handwritten doctors’ notes or submitting information using a QWERTY keyboard.

Get Customers to Take Action

Marketers can encourage their target customers to download an application, leave a review, sign up for a service, or share their contact details by using QR codes. This includes QR codes that lead to the App Store or Google reviews.

Authenticate People and Documents

QR codes allow organizations to authenticate people attending their events and prevent the counterfeiting of documents. Countries like India have made it mandatory to have a QR code on any auto insurance policy.

Track Inventory, Delivery, Packaging, and People

QR codes are commonly used to track the status of deliveries, enabling the recipient to see the current location and the delivery history of their package. This is possible through geocode QR codes that enable the live status of a package to be tracked.

Recruit Employees

Recruiters can use QR codes to help potential candidates find a full job description on their smartphone or lead them to a list of current vacancies.

Improve Work-Life Balance

Ensuring that employees have a comfortable and happy work-life balance is important for successful organizations. QR codes can be used to check in on employee happiness and for family members to report if someone does not get home on time.

What are the Risks/Limitations Associated with QR Codes?

QR codes have seen a rapid increase in popularity in recent years, but their uptake has often been held back by concerns around security. For example, it is easy for a cyber criminal to place a QR code that sends users to malicious websites that steal user data or payment information.

Common QR code security risks include:

QR Spoofing

This involves an individual putting their own QR code, typically on a poster, that sends users to another website, which could be malicious. Also known as Quick Response Code Login Jacking (QRLjacking), this process often uses shortened URLs to hide the true QR code destination.

Native Scanning

QR code take-up has been hampered by some smartphones not being able to natively scan them. This forced users to download third-party apps to scan a code that forwards them to a website. The QR code scanning capability was only recently added to iPhone cameras and is not yet widely adopted on Android devices.

Limitation of Accuracy and Proximity

QR code scanning is frequently susceptible to providing data that is inaccurate or unreliable, particularly when it comes to tracking location and proximity activity.

Limitation of Completeness of Data

Using QR codes to check in to a location is important, but it is equally useful to know when an individual departed. Most check-in QR codes obtain details when people enter a building but rarely when they leave, which risks incomplete movement records.

Limitation of Data Security, Privacy, and Compliance

Using QR codes to check in to a location is important, but it is equally useful to know when an individual departed. Most check-in QR codes obtain details when people enter a building but rarely when they leave, which risks incomplete movement records.

Limitations of QR Codes for Contact Tracing

The success of using QR codes for contact tracing has been affected by their lack of effectiveness. For example, QR codes listed in bars and restaurants often do not work, which means people cannot scan into the establishment.

A Framework for Secure, Reliable Contact Tracking with QR Codes

Businesses can establish a framework for secure contact tracing with a closed ecosystem that enables the scanning of QR codes and contact tracing.

Protection Against QR Code Security Risks

.This ensures only QR codes containing check-in details can be actioned or scanned, protecting users from QR spoofing.

Verify the Proximity of Check-ins and Automatic Check-out Prompts

The system uses geofencing to ensure only people who are in the location can check in and automatically issues reminders for them to check out. 

Verify Identity and Contact Details

Businesses can protect their data, employees, and customers by using security tools like multi-factor authentication (MFA) to verify user identity and contact details.

Take Privacy and Data Security Seriously

Data security and privacy need to be taken seriously, and organizations must take all the steps required to protect and secure any data accrued through the use of QR codes. 

Real-time Reporting and Capacity Management

Organizations can remotely view people that are in a location, giving them real-time capacity management insight that is vital to contact tracing.

How Fortinet Can Help

FortiEDR provides automated real-time endpoint protection that protects all mobile devices from infection. It is the only endpoint security solution built from the ground up to stop breaches and detect advanced threats. This automatically protects data, guarantees system uptime, and ensures business continuity.