Six months ago, digital junkies were gaga for QR codes which were beginning to appear on all sorts of different products and promotions. Shit, my shoe company even put one in the padding of the heal area for me to scan! Smartphone users were eager to show their flip-phone-using friends what that crazy little square meant and how their cool new app could scan it and take them somewhere on the web. But QR code technology faces some new challenges.
We’re now learning that scammers are employing QR codes to do malicious things like embedding spyware apps onto your device or taking you to an infected site or stealing your information.
Another a competitive threat to QR codes has more recently emerged… Mobile Visual Search (MVS). MVS is similar to QR code scanning in that you point your smartphone at something that piques your curiosity, you scan it, and you’re presented with more info on the product. But in the case of MVS, you’re not scanning a bar code sorta thing. You’re taking a picture of an actual product or place. Let’s say you were near Wall Street and walking past the giant brass bull statue and wanted to know more about the statue. All you need to do is snap a picture of the statue with your smartphone’s MVS app and you’ll be presented with a webpage (maybe a Wikipedia page) that tells you everything you wanted to know about the statue. Or you could be strolling down the halls of an art museum, snap a picture of a famous picture with your MVS app, and you’ll learn everything there is to know about the picture and the painter.
MVS certainly has its advantages over QR codes. For starters, nobody can embed malicious code in whatever object you’re taking a picture of. Additionally, humans tend to engage more readily with images that evoke a visceral reaction. There’s nothing visceral about scanning a bar-code-looking thing.
That being said, we shouldn’t relegate QR codes to obscurity, in favor of MVS, just yet. MVS definitely has its limitations. Currently, the technology is not good for much more than landmarks, DVDs, books and artwork. Additionally, the user must actively install an MVS application. (Effort is the enemy of instant gratification.) But QR scanner apps are now pre-installed in most smartphones. While developers work on the security issue on their end, users can simply exercise a little discretion when scanning and avoid codes that they don’t trust. You shouldn’t just can any old QR code someone slaps on a bulletin board or flyer. Only scan those QR codes on trusted product packages. That QR code on my Coke can is not going to harvest my passwords. Coke stamps that QR code on the side of their cans at their production facility.
QR codes may not be as flashy and fun as MVS technology, but I estimate that we’ll see QR codes fall into their respective niche and be very reliable as security measures improve. In the meantime, keep an eye on MVS as it becomes more popular, powerful and cool!