Photo/IllutrationMasahiro Hara, left, the inventor of the Quick Response (QR) code, and actress Umika Kawashima, center, attend an event in Tokyo’s Minato Ward to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the code’s development. (Eitaro Takeyama)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The Japanese engineer who created the Quick Response (QR) code in 1994, never imagined it would become so widely used among consumers.

Now that it's globally entrenched as a multipurpose application, he's concerned that it needs a security update.

On its 25th anniversary this year, Masahiro Hara vowed to strengthen the safety of the system, which has spread in fields all over the world to include cashless payments through smartphones.

"Now that it's used for payments, I feel a sense of responsibility to make it more secure,” said Hara, 62, a chief engineer at Denso Wave Inc., during an interview in Tokyo on Aug. 8.

He came up with the code intended only for use in production control at plants while working in the development division of Denso Corp., in Agui, Aichi Prefecture.

QR codes were originally used for manufacturing and to issue electronic tickets and coupons. But the technology has recently grown to be adopted for a wider range of purposes in tandem with the spread of smartphones.

Denso made the QR code standards freely available, and urged operators in Japan and abroad to aggressively adopt the technology.

They offer a convenient way to store vast amounts of data. An ordinary barcode can record only 20 characters, but the two-dimensional QR code can capture up to 7,000 digits.

Currently, the system is attracting a lot of attention as a way to make cashless payments. Customers can pay for items using their smartphone to read QR codes posted at stores.

Chinese consumers have widely accepted the Alipay and WeChat Pay services. Online service providers released the PayPay and Line Pay systems in Japan with convenience store chain operators and leading cellphone carriers following suit.

Since QR codes can be produced cheaply, they are expected to spread further.

From autumn, Tokyo’s Asakusa subway line began posting QR codes of train data on carriage doors as part of a project to better control platform safety gates. The codes can be read by cameras installed on platforms.

A facial recognition system for bank ATMs is also in the works using QR code technology.

But the technology is not without risks. Normal QR codes are easy to make, so increasing security features to stop the spread of fakes is essential.

So far, partially encrypted QR codes as well as a new anti-copy QR code system have been introduced.