One of the fundamental requirements for any capitalist economy is the right for property and the ability to protect this right. Thomas Hobbes noted in 17th century “My own can only truly be mine if there is one unambiguously strongest power in the realm, and that power treats it as mine, protecting its status as such.”
I would like to consider in this post the subject of owning a QR code- can a QR code be a private property? If the answer is yes, who then is the highest power protecting this right?
QR codes are not physical entities. If I own a table it is mine, even if you own an exact copy of my table – my table remains my property and your table remains yours. The fact that two physical objects look the same is not relevant to the property issue. Actually a central power of modern economy hides in its capability to mass produce objects that looks the same.
However all of QR code functionality hides in its look. Add to this that they can be produced for free (and hence duplicated). Is there any sense than by questioning whether a QR code can be owned? Can it be a private property?
For being able to answer this I looked after the rights that come from owning a property. Here they are:
1 – The right to control the use of the property
2 – The right to benefit from the property
3 – The right to sell it or give it to somebody else
4 – The right to prevent others from using it
Since the only effective way of using a QR code is by scanning it, there is no problem with 1 and 2 above. The big problem here is rule number 4 – how can I prevent others from using it? Right number 3 – selling it, cannot hold if any of the other rights is violated. So if we only can find a way to prevent other from using it (when the owner wants to) – may it be that we are at the dawn of a new economy era?
Before trying to answer this challenge I would like to make a quick review on the two first rights mentioned above.
Controlling your QR code
Some companies will sell you the ability to control your QR code. The type of control they provide is modifying at your own will the QR code target. To reach this affect the QR code does not contains the target URL but an intermediary one. This one will use a script or a table that will redirect the browser to the final target. You the owner have the ability (by login to a site with an account and password) to change the target URL at your wish.
Thinking of it – this is a powerful feature gained by relatively simple means. Take for example buying a QR code for your dog collar. Whenever your QR dog collar is inspected it will show a message that this QR code was created by so and so – advertising the QR code producer. Whenever you feel that your dog is lost – you can switch the QR code to point to your phone number, address, suggested price for the return of the dog – whatever. Moreover the QR code provider might also inform you that your QR code was clicked from such and such location right now. I find it quite impressing – the ability to remote control a piece of paper on your dog collar, or even more impressing many pieces of paper around the world with a single click.
Benefits from your QR code
One of the common benefits from QR codes (beside the effects you gain from clicking on them) is the ability to access their clicks traffic data. Google analytics will provide you this service for free under two conditions:
1- You are the owner of the URL encoded in the QR code
2- You need to plant a small piece of code into your HTML.
This is actually a tracking done on the website and you can get this data as the owner of the site – without any connection to the issue who is the QR code owner.
Other companies will give you a QR code with an intermediary URL (like in previous example) while the in-between URL will collect the click data before sending it to the target URL. This will provide you with your QR code traffic data without being the owner of the URL. bit.ly provides you this service for free if you create the QR code on their site.
While the two last examples collects traffic data only when they reach the site, QR code readers can provide more. They can tell you how many clicks were done that did not reach the site as well. They can also pick for you more detailed location information and other interesting pieces of data – but that may be a subject of another post.
Controlling who can use your QR code
I am sure that many of you ask – why would I like to prevent other from reading my QR code? Isn’t the secret wish of every QR code owner that everybody will scan his code?
Well there are of course situations when you do not want anybody else being able to activate your QR code. For the sake of example alone I provide the following situation.
Imagine that your door lock is controlled by a wireless mechanism and that you own a QR code containing a URL that whenever reached will open the lock for few seconds. So you will not need any keys anymore you simply click the QR code on your door and the door opens.
The important point here is that only you can scan this QR code. It is open for everyone and everyone can try to scan it – but you and only you as the owner is able to activate it!
Your QR code ownership provided you the control on a physical object (your door lock). That makes the ownership on a QR code something worthwhile.
I must stress here that this is not a good idea. Somebody can tear the QR code from your door or drawing on it with black ink or even simply stick another QR code on the door and robs by that the control you had on your door. Sticking a false QR code over yours is especially malicious because it can lead to providing the ability to enter your home to others, in case you scanned the false QR code, trying to open your door.
Before giving a good example of this private scanning capability, I would like to explain how this private scanning magic is possible.
For this you need cooperation from your QR code reader. Your QR code reader will be the entity that will sell you these private codes, but not the only one. You must have for this effect something that will identify you as a different entity than anybody else; you will need a unique user id.
This user id may be an arbitrary sequence of digits and characters that does not identify you personally in any way. Actually even the reader itself may have no idea who you are. You may be totally unaware of this id, you may know about it but not knowing what is it, but whenever you scan a code your user id will go with the http packet to the target URL.
Most URL’s will have no idea what to do with it and will ignore it. The URL that unlocks doors will check the QR code content, will match it with your user id and in you go.
Note that using a different reader will require another pair of reader-user id to be registered with your QR code in the unlocking locks service site. As the owner of the QR code you will be of course granted with the ability to add other family members to the controlling group as well as other devices in case you own a few and other readers that will support the user id feature as well.
I am reminding again that this is a bad idea – do not use it. Here is a better one.
A private QR code example
Put a private QR code on the inside of your front car windshield. Use it for starting and stopping your parking. This is a totally private QR code, only you can pay for it and more important only you can stop the parking. Combine this with geo location and your parking fees automatically adjust to the locality.
Once you control the content of the QR code you can decide what other will see when clicked. For example other people may see details on your car in case you would like to sell it; you may enable them through the QR code to ping you in case you know you may be blocking somebody, or counting on a good soul that may want to warn you on a nearby parking inspector.
Parking inspectors will be able to get your parking status and you will be also able to get an indication whenever an inspector checked your parking.
Let’s say that your local municipality issued this QR code for you. It can define several users groups; each will see one of the many faces of your QR code. Parking inspectors will get your parking status; Fire compartments will be able to call you upon clicking the same code and you will be able to choose what other will see when they click it as well as starting and stopping your parking.
One question remains – how all these groups id are assigned for all these different people?
Surprisingly or not it can be done – using QR codes.
Let’s say that the municipality created your QR code. The first person that will click your parking QR code should be you – and as such you will be registered (with your user id) as the owner of the code – the one that starts and stop the parking, and control who else may do this.
For assigning special group ids another special authorizing QR code should be introduced to every worker in this group. This special QR code scanned by the QR code reader will assign the group id encoded in the QR code to the scanning device.
From now on whenever the QR reader application detects a parking QR code, it will check for one of possible group ids on the device and send this group id to the QR code target URL, together of course with the regular user id – that’s to enable the parking inspectors pay for their own parking too 🙂
A last word regarding QR code readers – do not forget that QR code reader SDK are available today in the market and every municipality/company can easily create its own parking application that will support all these features. It is important to know that everything mentioned here- is possible.