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What Is A QR Code?

You most likely have seen or have used QR codes by now. They can be found almost everywhere. QR code is the abbreviation for Quick Response code. The reason why they are called 'Quick Response' code is because they allow you to access information instantly when they are scanned with a scanner that can read the code. The information contained in a QR code is stored as a pattern of black square pixels or black dots inside a square grid with a white background. It’s like a two-dimensional version of bar codes but unlike bar codes, QR codes are capable of storing lots of data. In addition, it’s readability by scanners is not affected if the QR code image is damaged up to a certain extent as its data structure contains duplicates. 

Invented in 1994 by the Japanese automotive company Denso Wave, it was originally used to track inventory in the automotive industry. Denso Wave then declared they would not exercise their patent rights and allowed anyone to make and use QR codes. Fast forward to today, their usage has expanded to a wide range of applications and purposes. You don’t need a special scanner to scan and read a QR code now as you can do it with your smartphone. You can now scan a QR code to view an online menu, place orders, check-in, open a website without typing the URL, access Wi-Fi, and make payments, among many others. Social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, etc, allow you to add contacts easily with QR code. You can generate and access your account’s QR code within the app and share it with anyone so that they can scan the code to add you. During the COVID-19 pandemic, QR codes have gained traction among retailers and restaurants as an option for their customers to view menus digitally and as a payment option as it helps in reducing physical contact between staff and customers due to it’s contactless nature.


QR codes can also hold records of your clinical information such as vaccination history or test results, allowing you to keep a digital copy and easily share the information with others. For example, if you have been vaccinated for COVID-19 in California, you can obtain your free California Digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record issued by the California Department of Public Health. It is a screenshot of your electronic vaccination record with a QR code which you can save into your smartphone as an alternative way to prove your vaccination status to any establishment that requests it. When the QR code is scanned with a SMART Health Card app, it displays the same key information as in your CDC vaccine card - name, date of birth, vaccine type, and dates of vaccine doses.

If you have a smartphone that supports eSIM, you can set up and activate a cell phone plan by just scanning a QR code provided by your cell phone service provider. An eSIM is an embedded SIM card inside a smartphone which serves the same function as a physical SIM. If you are planning to travel abroad and you have an unlocked eSIM smartphone, you can purchase an eSIM data package online for the country that you are traveling to. When you purchase the data package, you will receive a QR code which you can then scan with your device to install it. As soon as you arrive at your destination and your device connects to an allowed network, the data package will activate and you can then start using data! (Check out our eSIM and tutorial page to learn more about eSIM and how to install a data package)

QR codes are also used in advertising and marketing. Many companies and organizations now use QR codes in creative ways to market themselves, promote their products, and to engage their customers. QR codes are so versatile that the possibilities with them are almost endless. 

How To Scan A QR Code

Smartphones running the latest Android and iOS mobile operating system have a built-in QR code reader via the native camera app. This makes scanning QR code easy and seamless.


Note that you may have to enable the ‘Scan QR codes’ in your camera app’s settings. If you have an older smartphone that does not have a built-in QR code reader, you can download a QR code reader app for free via the Android and iOS app stores.


To scan and read a QR code with your smartphone, simply open the camera app on your phone, point the camera at the QR code until a notification pops up on the screen. Tap on the notification and it will immediately send you to a website or perform some other actions depending on what the QR code does.

How To Create A QR Code

There are several websites that let you create QR codes for free. One of them is QR Code Generator. If you would like to create customized QR codes for your company, marketing, ads, etc, you can sign up for their pro version.

If you have Google Chrome installed in your smartphone or computer, you can create a QR code in Google Chrome to share a URL as shown in the steps below.​​​​​​​

Are QR Codes Safe To Scan?

Be aware that other than opening a weblink, scanning a QR code can also initiate other actions in your phone like adding contacts, sending an email, making a payment and installing an App, among others. Thus you shouldn’t scan QR codes from unknown or unverified sources as you can’t just look at a QR code and tell what it does or if it is safe to scan. Scammers and hackers can generate malicious QR codes that send you to a fraudulent or fake website when you scan the code. These fake websites can then steal your login credential information or even install malicious software into your device. Scammers can also tamper with legitimate posters and advertising materials by placing stickers of malicious QR code over the legitimate QR code.

One of the most recent cases of fraudulent QR codes involves public parking meters in several US cities. Police discovered QR codes were placed on parking meters by scammers to trick the public into scanning the QR code to make quick payments. Anyone attempting to pay for parking using those QR codes will be directed to a fraudulent website that will capture their payment and credit card details. Thus do exercise caution when it comes to QR codes. If you are not sure whether it is legit, don’t scan it!