Restaurant menu QR codes and the risks to your privacy

A menu linked from a QR code is displayed on a smartphone. ((Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

FOX Business’ Kurt Knutsson, known as The CyberGuy, joined FOX Business’ “Mornings with Maria” and discussed the risks and privacy issues that can come with QR code menus, which many restaurants have adopted to replace paper menus amid the pandemic.

KURT KNUTSSON: Chances are you’ve never thought about what’s between your food and the QR code menu you’ve used to order at many restaurants. These QR code menus were almost never seen until 18 months ago. This pandemic has changed everything. Shared menus have been replaced by pointing your phone’s camera at a QR code. It opens the restaurant’s website to display the menu. Other QR codes are linked to sophisticated systems that also take orders and bill customers. Great.

Well, actually, a QR code can be programmed to link to anything, and that’s where privacy issues come in. When it comes to restaurants, in many cases the code QR you just filmed is already following you. They can track unknowing customers with when, where, and how often you scan. QR code systems can enable cookies to track your purchase history, capturing your name, phone number and credit cards in databases. And in some cases, this data is offered to other establishments and you had no idea. The problem here is that the vast majority of QR code systems lack clear privacy controls for consumers to opt out. Now, the use of QR codes is unlikely to slow down, even after people learn how their data can be manipulated. Customers simply appreciate the speed and ease of use of QR codes. And after all, the letters “QR” come from a quick response.

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Restaurants see the benefits to their bottom line here. QR code menus reduce labor costs by 30-50% since waiters don’t need to take orders. Payments tracking customer orders to better know what is selling on the menu is a great restaurant benefit and upselling offers based on the history of what we ordered is also a huge hit for restaurants. Fifty percent of full-service restaurants currently in America have been using QR code menus since the pandemic, according to the National Restaurant Association.

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Now, as food ordering makes QR codes more popular, hackers are thinking of new ways to trigger all sorts of problems, like misusing QR codes, linking you to malware to launch, for example, a ransomware attack. My best advice here – don’t point your phone at a QR code if you don’t know where it came from if it’s not a trusted source. For example, don’t get on the bus and say “Hey, someone said 10% off – I’m clicking that” because then it could go anywhere and somewhere really ugly.


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