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Security & privacy

Ever look at digital restaurant menus? You could open yourself up to more tracking

The pandemic has led to many changes, and among them is the rise in contactless systems. More people are using their smartphones to pay for goods and services. You may also have noticed an uptick in QR codes at establishments. These Quick Response barcodes make it easy to get more information about pretty much anything from an app to an article of clothing. They have other uses as well.

When sharing your Wi-Fi password, you have to be careful. Even giving it to someone you trust heightens the risk that your credentials can end up in the wrong hands. QR codes are a secure way to let your friends and loved ones into your network. Tap or click here for instructions.

Restaurants are using QR codes to add supplemental information to their menus or even replace them entirely. Most smartphones have QR readers built right in so you can sit down and plan your meal accordingly. So, what’s the catch? You may be getting more than just details on the chef’s special. Are QR codes safe to use when it comes to privacy?

Easy to use, but what’s the catch?

It’s a sad fact that your online habits will always be tracked. Companies and businesses want to know where you’ve been, what you did there, how to contact you, what you like and don’t like and more.

The New York Times has a new report about those paper menu-replacing QR codes added to restaurants, especially during the pandemic. It turns out those little pixelated squares can collect customer data.

The report cites information from the National Restaurant Association, stating that half of all full-service restaurants in the U.S. have added QR code menus since the start of the pandemic.

The restaurants can use collected information to track their customers’ orders and contact information. They can then send customers unsolicited personalized offers, coupons and advertisements.

Your personal information can be tracked through an app or website once you scan a QR code. In some cases, you are required to create an account, providing your email address at the very least.

A restaurant can entice you to spend more money with add-ons tailored to your order. These virtual menus also reduce the need for servers to take your order.

Track attack

The Times describes two companies that offer technology for restaurants to create QR codes. Mr. Yum and Cheqout not only sell the tech but can also track customers’ orders and provide that information to the restaurant, along with the customer’s contact information.

RELATED: 7 tools that protect your online privacy

A Mr. Yum co-founder told the Times that customer data was only provided to the restaurant where that customer placed their order and that Mr. Yum itself will not use the information to contact the customer. She also said that the data would not be sold to third parties. A Cheqout co-founder said the same.

These companies have your data. The restaurants have it as well. Even if they are keeping it to themselves, nothing will stop them from abusing that information in the future.

Protecting your data in other ways

You can block sites from tracking you in a few ways. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency gives iOS users more control over their data. Go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking and toggle the Allow Apps to Request to Track off.

You can also turn off location services by going to Settings > Privacy and toggling off Location Services universally or for each app.

If you’re using an Android phone, go to Settings GoogleAds and toggle on the switch for Opt out of Ads Personalization. To change your location settings, go to Settings > Google > Manage Google Account > Data & personalization and toggle Use Location History to off.

Your choice of browser also affects your level of privacy. Tap or click here to see how some of the most popular browsers compare when it comes to how your data is used.

Always keep your devices updated with the latest software to protect against malware and hacks.

Keep reading

How to scan a QR code on your Android (no apps required)

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