Restaurant QR codes aren’t as trivial as they might seem. After the pandemic hit, many restaurants ditched their sprouted, laminated physical menus for a more hygienic option: QR codes that lead customers to an online menu. Sounds harmless, right? Well, a new report from The New York Times reveals that these machine-readable labels can invade your privacy.
Companies can implement tracking tools in these black-and-white pixelated codes to target certain customers and collect analytics, raising red flags among privacy experts.
Restaurant QR codes concern security experts
Citing the National Restaurant Association, the New York Times pointed out that half of American restaurants now use QR codes. According to a report from Square’s Future of Restaurants 2021, 61% of restaurants plan to continue offering contactless payment options to restaurant patrons.
QR codes aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and sadly, invasive tracking technology isn’t going out of fashion either. Some restaurants have created a database containing their customers’ order history, email address and phone number.
“People don’t understand that when you use a QR code, it inserts the whole online tracking device between you and your meal. Suddenly your online activity of sitting down for a meal has become part of the online advertising empire,” said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another marketing expert, Managing Director Sharat Potharaju of Mobstac, said business owners have no intention of giving up the benefits QR codes have brought to their bottom line (they help restaurants save up to 50% on labor costs). Not only can they bundle deals and specials for customers, but they collect data on customer spending habits.
The New York Times noted that Mr. Yum, a startup that sells technology to create QR code menus to restaurants, admitted that the digital menu contains cookies that track customers’ purchase history as well as their phone number. and their protected payment information. However, Kim Teo, co-founder of Mr. Yum, said restaurant customer data is only available for that establishment and the information is not sold to third parties.
Sifting through the commentary under the New York Times article, some don’t care about the follow-up. “Not having to wait for a waiter to receive and pay the check is worth it,” one poster said. “Some people are too ready to put convenience above personal safety,” replied another.
Whether we like it or not, restaurants collect your data for marketing promotions and run personalized discounts and offers.