Shock! Horror!! QR codes become useful!

QR codes, you know the things I mean, this sort of thing:

Scan me

Scan me

The idea is that you wave you smartphone at it and it does something – usually takes you to a website. You used to need a special app for that, but these days the camera app on iPhones can do it – it pops up a notification offering to go to the site.

Despite the best efforts of marketing people, they never really seemed to catch on (there’s an old joke that the only people who regularly used them were those same marketing people). This left them as a solution in search of a problem.

Well, it seems some people have started finding problems. For instance, my local bus company sells weekly season tickets. You buy these from the driver on the bus and until recently you just had to show them as you got on. Simple. Fine for passengers, but possibly not so good for the company, who had to rely on drivers having the concentration and inclination to make sure the expiry date printed on the ticket hadn’t passed. And while they’d have an idea of how many journeys were made by people with such tickets, they had no idea how many were made by individuals. Were a small number of people making lots of journeys while most made just a few? This is the sort of thing companies like to know as it helps them decide on what prices they can get away with are appropriate.

So, enter the QR code. They’ve invested in fancy new ticket machines, which quite apart from letting you buy single or daily tickets with contactless payments, now print QR codes on multi-use tickets such as day returns or weekly ones. You pop your QR code under a scanner as you get on, and the machine beeps. They now know that a ticket bought at your stop is used mumble times in a week, which is probably very important to them. Unlike their mobile tickets thingy, this isn’t personally identifiable data, but still of value, I’m sure.

Here’s what it looks like (and yes, my phone did offer to do a search for the translation of the code):

Ticket to ride

Ticket to ride

They use a sticky thingy to hold the paper ticket, so it doesn’t fall apart. And that ticket expires today, so don’t bother trying to print it out and use it!

But there’s more. Tesco (large UK supermarket chain, for non-UK readers) now have a payment app on iOS and Android. The idea is you link it to your Clubcard account (loyalty card thingy) and add one or more payment cards – the phone camera scans the card for the number and expiry date, and you have to add some other details. You can then, if you’re so inclined, use the app when shopping. You authenticate (PIN code or thumbprint) and select which card you want to use if you’ve stored more than one. It then displays, you guessed it a QR code, which the cashier scans. The code changes every ten seconds, so it presumably includes a time code. Whether this is a good idea or not I’m not sure. Marginally more convenient than inserting a card and entering a PIN as well as presenting your Clubcard (got to give them lots of lovely data, err, get your points), about the same as tapping a card for a contactless payment, but without the relatively low transaction limit.

So there you are: QR codes actually being used. Who’d have thought it?

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