|To: Savant who wrote (1703)||7/26/2021 1:58:45 PM|
|From: Glenn Petersen|
|QR Codes Are Here to Stay. So Is the Tracking They Allow.|
New York Times
July 26, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO — When people enter Teeth, a bar in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, the bouncer gives them options. They can order food and drinks at the bar, he says, or they can order via a QR code.
Each table at Teeth has a card emblazoned with the code, a pixelated black-and-white square. Customers simply scan it with their phone camera to open a website for the online menu. Then they can input their credit card information to pay, all without touching a paper menu or interacting with a server.
A scene like this was a rarity 18 months ago, but not anymore. “In 13 years of bar ownership in San Francisco, I’ve never seen a sea change like this that brought the majority of customers into a new behavior so quickly,” said Ben Bleiman, Teeth’s owner.
QR codes — essentially a kind of bar code that allows transactions to be touchless — have emerged as a permanent tech fixture from the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants have adopted them en masse, retailers including CVS and Foot Locker have added them to checkout registers, and marketers have splashed them all over retail packaging, direct mail, billboards and TV advertisements.
But the spread of the codes has also let businesses integrate more tools for tracking, targeting and analytics, raising red flags for privacy experts. That’s because QR codes can store digital information such as when, where and how often a scan occurs. They can also open an app or a website that then tracks people’s personal information or requires them to input it.
As a result, QR codes have allowed some restaurants to build a database of their customers’ order histories and contact information. At retail chains, people may soon be confronted by personalized offers and incentives marketed within QR code payment systems.
“People don’t understand that when you use a QR code, it inserts the entire apparatus of online tracking between you and your meal,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Suddenly your offline activity of sitting down for a meal has become part of the online advertising empire.”
QR codes may be new to many American shoppers, but they have been popular internationally for years. Invented in 1994 to streamline car manufacturing at a Japanese company, QR codes became widely used in China in recent years after being integrated into the AliPay and WeChat Pay digital payment apps.
In the United States, the technology was hampered by clumsy marketing, a lack of consumer understanding and the hassle of needing a special app to scan the codes, said Scott Stratten, who wrote the 2013 business book “QR Codes Kill Kittens” with his wife, Alison Stratten.
That has changed for two reasons, Mr. Stratten said. In 2017, he said, Apple made it possible for the cameras in iPhones to recognize QR codes, spreading the technology more widely. Then came the “pandemic, and it’s amazing what a pandemic can make us do,” he said.
Half of all full-service restaurant operators in the United States have added QR code menus since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association. In May 2020, PayPal introduced QR code payments and has since added them at CVS, Nike, Foot Locker and around one million small businesses. Square, another digital payments firm, rolled out a QR code ordering system for restaurants and retailers in September.
Businesses don’t want to give up the benefits that QR codes have brought to their bottom line, said Sharat Potharaju, the chief executive of the digital marketing company MobStac. Deals and special offers can be bundled with QR code systems and are easy to get in front of people when they look at their phones, he said. Businesses also can gather data on consumer spending patterns through QR codes.
“With traditional media, like a billboard or TV, you can estimate how many people may have seen it, but you don’t know how people actually interacted with it,” said Sarah Cucchiara, a senior vice president at BrandMuscle, a marketing firm that introduced a QR code menu product last year. “With QR codes, we can get reporting on those scans.”
Cheqout and Mr. Yum, two start-ups that sell technology for creating QR code menus at restaurants, also said the codes had brought advantages to businesses.
Restaurants that use QR code menus can save 30 percent to 50 percent on labor costs by reducing or eliminating the need for servers to take orders and collect payments, said Tom Sharon, a co-founder of Cheqout.
Digital menus also make it easier to persuade people to spend more with offers to add fries or substitute more expensive spirits in a cocktail, with photographs of menu items to make them more appealing, said Kim Teo, a Mr. Yum co-founder. Orders placed through the QR code menu also let Mr. Yum inform restaurants what items are selling, so they can add a menu section with the most popular items or highlight dishes they want to sell.
QR codes “are an important first step toward making your experience in physical space outside of your home feel just like being tracked by Google on your screen,” said Lucy Bernholz, the director of Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab.
Ms. Teo said that each restaurant’s customer data was available only to that establishment and that Mr. Yum did not use the information to reach out to customers. It also does not sell the data to any third-party brokers, she said.
Cheqout collects only customers’ names, phone numbers and protected payment information, which it does not sell to third parties, Mr. Sharon said.
On a recent blustery evening at Teeth, customers shared mixed reviews of the QR code ordering system from Cheqout, which the bar had installed in August. Some said it was convenient, but added that they would prefer a traditional menu at a fine dining establishment.
“If you’re on a date and you’re whipping your phone out, it’s a distraction,” Daniela Sernich, 29, said.
Jonathan Brooner-Contreras, 26, said that QR code ordering was convenient but that he feared the technology would put him out of his job as a bartender at a different bar in the neighborhood.
“It’s like if a factory replaced all of its workers with robots,” he said. “People depend on those 40 hours.”
Regardless of customers’ feelings, Mr. Bleiman said Cheqout’s data showed that about half of Teeth’s orders — and as much as 65 percent during televised sports games — were coming through the QR code system.
“They may not like it,” he said in a text message. “But they’re doing it!”
QR Codes Are Here to Stay. So Is the Tracking They Allow. (dnyuz.com)
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|From: Glenn Petersen||8/20/2021 5:33:47 AM|
|The Numbers Hiding Behind That QR Code|
The now-familiar square of little black boxes added a second dimension to bar codes—and holds exponentially more data
By Eugenia Cheng
Wall Street Journal
Aug. 19, 2021 6:24 pm ET
ILLUSTRATION: TOMASZ WALENTA
Mathematician Eugenia Cheng explores the uses of math beyond the classroom. Read more columns here.
I have cautiously resumed dining in restaurants occasionally, and so have found myself scanning QR codes to access the menu online. It’s a quick and easy process hiding a surprisingly large amount of math.
QR stands for Quick Response, and these codes were invented in 1994 by Masahiro Hara at the Japanese automotive company Denso Wave. Their original purpose was to track inventory in factories, but broader uses became possible with the advent and ubiquity of smartphones.
QR codes are essentially a two-dimensional version of bar codes, which are a clever way of encoding information in an image using vertical lines of different thicknesses that a scanner can detect. Hara’s 2-dimensional version uses a square grid of small black and white squares, apparently inspired by the board game Go.
The extra power is not just used to store a bigger message; it is used to improve accuracy and reliability.
The extra dimension allows for a huge increase in capacity: Where 1-dimensional bar codes typically encode around 20 digits of information, a QR code can hold 4,000 or more depending on the version used. A small increase in the width of the grid yields a much larger increase in the number of small squares available, because of how the math of squaring works.
But this extra power is not just used to store a bigger message; it is used to improve accuracy and reliability. The pattern cleverly encodes information about which way up it is supposed to be, so that it doesn’t matter which way up you scan it. It also has error-correcting information built in, so that if the picture is slightly damaged, the information can still be reconstructed. In fact, depending on the version used, up to 30% percent can be damaged and the code can still be read.
The correcting method is called Reed-Solomon error-correction and was introduced by Irving S. Reed and Gustave Solomon in 1960. It was previously used for compact discs, so that they could be slightly scratched and still play. Reed and Solomon were engineers, but both had doctorates in pure mathematics, and their method uses some quite sophisticated pure math that might otherwise seem very unrelated to daily life: polynomials over finite fields.
Polynomials may be familiar from high school algebra. They are expressions involving a variable often called x, raised to various powers, multiplied by coefficients, and added together—for example, x2 + ¾x + 2 or higher order ones along the lines of ¾x4 + ½x3 + x2+ 2x + 1.
In these examples the coefficients are all rational numbers from an infinite pool, but we could choose coefficients from a more limited “finite field” instead. The theory of finite fields is complicated, but it simplifies certain things, especially where multiplication is concerned. Reed-Solomon error-correction uses a finite field with 256 elements; all the numbers in this system can be represented by a string of 8 binary digits, that is, 0’s and 1’s, which is convenient for computers to handle.
The text of the “message” is also turned into binary digits, so the text and the error-correcting information are all expressed in binary code, which can then be represented as black and white squares instead of 0’s and 1’s. The tiny squares inside the main square of the QR code are laid out in a preset order, and when we scan it, a computer somewhere reads off the binary digits in the appropriate order, corrects any errors found and recovers the message—whether it’s information about a factory component or a website listing tasty pasta dishes.
We don’t have to understand any of this math to use QR codes in a restaurant, but I hope we can be glad that somebody did.
The Numbers Hiding Behind That QR Code - WSJ
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|To: Glenn Petersen who wrote (1705)||1/9/2022 7:10:36 AM|
|From: Glenn Petersen|
|The End of Car Keys, Passwords and Fumbling With Your Phone at Checkout|
The ultra-wideband, or UWB, technology that powers Apple’s AirTags could reshape how we interact with devices—if companies can overcome privacy concerns and other hurdles
By Christopher Mims
The Wall Street Journal
Jan. 8, 2022 12:00 am ET
For all the attention on tech companies and location tracking in recent years, our gadgets are actually surprisingly bad at knowing precisely where they are at any given moment. That’s about to change.
A straightforward and robust technology, decades in the making, is finally becoming affordable and widespread enough to grant devices not just a basic sense of direction, both indoors and out, but also the ability to precisely locate themselves in three dimensions.
The technology is called ultra-wideband, or UWB. It enables a centimeter-accurate sense of “where” on top of the “when” of computers’ clocks and the “what” provided by cameras and other sensors, and it could lead to all sorts of interesting things that might not be immediately obvious.
It has already become part of a standard backed by Apple, AAPL 0.10% Google, BMW, Volkswagen and others designed to let anyone with a late-model smartphone or Apple Watch unlock and start their cars simply by walking up to them. It could make it easy for us to control any connected light, lock, speaker or other smart-home gadget simply by pointing at it with our phone or watch. It could even, claim its architects, end passwords.
But first, UWB has to overcome the chicken-and-egg problem that always faces new technologies that require many different companies, in many different industries, to spend time and money making their devices wirelessly communicate with one another.
Companies that use it also will have to overcome major privacy issues. Once our gadgets are broadcasting their location at all times, how do we assure that information doesn’t fall into the hands of those who would use it to harm us?
Still, while UWB is in its early days, some applications are already here. The microchips and antennae that make it possible have been in every model of iPhone since the iPhone 11, launched in 2019, as well as newer phones from Google, Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo and others. It’s also been in the Apple Watch since 2020’s Series 6 model.
Its applications so far include iPhone owners finding their AirTags, sharing files via AirDrop, or amusing their friends with a party trick you can only do with Apple’s HomePod Mini. Owners of newer Samsung phones are using UWB when they find their Galaxy SmartTag+, that company’s answer to AirTags.
Apple’s AirTags, one of the earliest consumer applications of UWB technology, are about the size of four half-dollar coins, stacked. PHOTO: JAMES D. MORGAN/GETTY IMAGES
In the not-too-distant future, things could get a great deal more interesting. And while many technologies promising transformation of some critical part of our world’s digital plumbing are destined to fall short, there are reasons to believe this one could live up to its potential.
For one: Membership of the FiRa Consortium, a nonprofit developing the UWB standard, is a who’s-who of major tech companies.
UWB is not, in other words, some proprietary part of one tech giant’s walled garden. It’s more like a basic piece of consumer (and industrial) communications infrastructure, like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or 5G cellular standards.
UWB was developed over the past decade as a way to very precisely locate any object in three-dimensional space, says Dr. Ardavan Tehrani, who is part of a working group at FiRa and also works for Meta Platforms, the company formerly known as Facebook, in a division called Reality Labs.
Previous attempts to track location indoors with existing wireless technologies, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, fell short because they were never intended for anything but transferring data, he adds.
UWB, by contrast, triangulates the position of an object by measuring how long it takes radio waves to travel between devices and beacons. It’s a bit like the Global Positioning System technology we use for things like Google Maps, except that GPS involves one-way transmissions from satellites to receivers listening on earth. UWB entails two-way conversations between, say, the chip inside a smartphone and another UWB device.
These beacons can be small—the AirTag is roughly the size of four U.S. half-dollar coins, stacked—and last for years on a single battery. But the technology requires at least a few such beacons nearby for a device to locate itself inside a room.
BMW is one of the companies that have embraced a UWB-based standard that will let drivers use smartphones as car keys.P HOTO: BMW
UWB-compatible chips have the acuity to determine the location of an object to within a centimeter, says Daniel Knobloch, a wireless engineer at BMW and president of the Car Connectivity Consortium. That group has incorporated UWB into its standard, finalized in May of 2021, for opening and starting a car with any smartphone.
Many newer cars have keyless entry systems. This consortium’s new standard enables a vehicle to unlock when a person with a UWB smartphone walks within a certain number of feet of a car. Because access to the car is entirely through a smartphone, it can also be transferred, which could make picking up a rental car at the airport as simple as tapping on a link in a text or email to transform their phone into a “key.”
Similarly, UWB could allow paying at a store checkout without having to figure out exactly where on a payment terminal to mash one’s phone or watch, and entering a building without ever having to swipe a keycard.
A laptop equipped with UWB could recognize that its owner is sitting in front of it, by listening for the signal from her smartphone or smartwatch. It could then automatically log in to any service that person is authorized to use, putting yet another nail in the coffin of passwords, says Dr. Tehrani.
Another potential application: making smart homes easier and more intuitive to use. Bastian Andelefski, an iOS developer in Germany, has demonstrated its potential. In a video posted online, he showed his ability to point his iPhone at any of the smart bulb-equipped lamps in his home, and turn them on or off with a single tap, rather than opening an app and scrolling to the appropriate light, as happens today.
Making this work was expensive and complicated, says Mr. Andelefski, and his hacked-together system is hardly ready for nontechnical users. But with more and more companies rolling out affordable beacons, it’s the sort of thing that could be available to consumers sooner rather than later.
If UWB sounds like some nascent technology long on promise but short on commercially available applications, that also seemed to be the trajectory of, for example, Wi-Fi. It had its origins in the early 1990s and didn’t begin to go mainstream until after Apple incorporated it into its iBook laptop in 1999.
Like Wi-Fi, UWB has a lot of room to improve, and many more applications could arise as a result, says Dinesh Bharadia, an assistant professor at University of California, San Diego, whose lab works on wireless communications and sensing. In research announced in September, his team demonstrated that, using a new kind of beacon, the speed of UWB could be increased by about a factor of 10, while the amount of power it consumes could be decreased by the same amount.
The resulting improvements, which would require only a software update to existing smartphones that use UWB, could allow an object to be located in space every millisecond. This would allow real-time tracking of VR and AR headsets, robots and other automation, pets and livestock, boxes in a warehouse, and anything else to which an AirTag-type UWB device could be attached.
UWB can help users navigate to specific destinations within a museum, store or other building. PHOTO: NXP
That UWB could be used for so many different applications doesn’t mean that it will be, cautions Dr. Bharadia. One application for which previous indoor-localization technologies have been touted—maps that help us navigate inside buildings, or direct us to the right item on a grocery shelf—have failed for years. There are two reasons for this, says Dr. Bharadia, neither really technological: No one has figured out how to make money from indoor mapping, and users don’t seem to really care about a technology that can be replaced by something as simple as adequate signage.
A third reason indoor localization technologies might have failed until now is privacy. Mr. Andelefski found, when using Apple’s own UWB technology, that there are many ways the iPhone’s software and hardware limit a developer’s access. Part of this he attributes to the need to maintain user privacy, and to protect data as sensitive as the precise location of their devices.
Indeed, recent reports of people using Apple AirTags to track cars before stealing them, and to stalk others, show just how sensitive this data can be.
Privacy is a “key consideration” of how the company’s UWB-based technology works, and how developers are allowed to use it, says an Apple spokesman. For example, apps can only use the phone’s UWB-powered location tech when they’re open, and after a user grants permission, so it isn’t possible for apps to track a user’s location in the background, he adds.
“UWB is enabling more accurate location data, and how it’s protected is up to Apple, Google and others,” says Mickael Viot, a member of the marketing working group at the FiRa consortium and also a director of business development at U.S. semiconductor company Qorvo.
The ability to know precisely where they are might seem minor in the pantheon of our gadgets’ superpowers, which include near-instantaneous communication with any point on the globe, sophisticated digital photography, real-time health monitoring, high-performance gaming and the like.
But the potential of UWB is the way it links up with those other technologies. Just as it was impossible to predict that 3G and front-facing cameras would give rise to Snapchat, or that the smartphone itself would transform seemingly every aspect of how we socialize, it’s tough to say just how far this sense of where our things are might take us. Today, it’s a replacement for car keys and passwords, but in the future it could well be part of making important objects in the physical world announce their position and identity to our smart glasses and other augmented-reality interfaces, says Dr. Tehrani.
That is, of course, if companies can first get a handle on the privacy implications of all those objects and devices constantly broadcasting their location.
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Write to Christopher Mims at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Appeared in the January 8, 2022, print edition as 'The End of Car Keys and More.'
The End of Car Keys, Passwords and Fumbling With Your Phone at Checkout - WSJ
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