back to article Smartphones aren't tiny PCs, but that's how we use them in the West

On a recent trip to Shanghai, I saw a person in front of me in a supermarket queue present their mobile phone when asked for payment. The clerk quickly pointed the laser scanner at the phone - blip!- the sale completed. But not thanks to NFC. I’d just seen AliPay, a mobile payments system backed by Alibaba (the world’s largest …

  1. jjcoolaus

    QR Codes are still around....

    <blockquote>After a brief heyday of experimentation, they’ve vanished from public spaces in Australia and America</blockquote>

    No they haven't. I still see QR codes almost daily. Bus shelter ad spaces have them a lot.

    1. Paul Shirley

      Re: QR Codes are still around....

      Same here. What's changed is rarely feeling any interest in scanning them and almost never bothering to pull the phone to do it even on those rare occasions. Seems like the novelty was all that was driving them. I now see NFC pads stuck on bus shelters, advertising boards etc. Intriguing the first few times but the novelty didn't last long enough to actually try it at all.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: QR Codes are still around....

        What's changed is that QR codes can be poisoned, so each one is viewed with at least some trepidation. The Chinese possess a level of trust in the system the west doesn't have. It all relies on a chain whereby a single link could cause real trouble if it's usurped (and it probably is, by the state, but most of them don't care).

        1. Paul Shirley

          Re: QR Codes are still around....

          QR could always be poisoned, that's why every reader I've used shows the data before letting the user decide what to do. Making it easier is of course enough to get more people choosing stupid anyway.

          1. moiety

            Re: QR Codes are still around....

            QR --> bit.ly --> Goatse

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: QR Codes are still around....

              >QR --> bit.ly --> Goatse

              Yep as the original rick roll it was so much more unpleasant. The curse of early adoption.

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Vector

            Re: QR Codes are still around....

            "...every reader I've used shows the data before letting the user decide what to do"

            Which, often as not returns some shortened URL that's useless as a determining factor, so we're back to trust being an issue.

        2. Sebastian A

          Re: QR Codes are still around....

          Remember the code that would hard-reset your Samsung phone with no confirmation and that could be embedded in a QR code?

          1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

            Re: QR Codes are still around....

            Except that as I read the article, the phone displays the qr code and the supermarket hardware reads it. There may not even be a url, let alone a poisoned one : it's just a cheap way to provide your secret to their reader.

        3. veti Silver badge

          Re: QR Codes are still around....

          And there's the problem, right there. QR codes in the west have only ever really been used for advertising. We've become accustomed to seeing it as an invitation to "scan this if you want to see more ads".

          Not very surprisingly, not a lot of people take up that invitation.

          We've always seen it as a machine-optically-readable version of a URL. But it really doesn't have to be. It can convey (exchange) all sorts of information that's got nothing to do with web browsing, and it sounds as if the Chinese have realised this. Good on them.

      2. boltar Silver badge

        Re: QR Codes are still around....

        "I now see NFC pads stuck on bus shelters, advertising boards etc."

        No danger of them being misused, oh no...

        Still, anyone who sticks their phone on some random pad deserves whatever happens frankly.

  2. J J Carter Silver badge
    Trollface

    Yup...

    Time to bring back Microsoft Tag!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yup...

      It'll probably become as popular as Windows Phone… Maybe…

  3. ratfox Silver badge

    The reason China is more advanced in terms of online payments is by and large due to the dismal US banking industry, which still relies on cheques, and does not yet seem to have gotten the idea of account transfers.

    It does not help that every player in the industry, from stores to credit card companies to phone makers to OS makers are hindering each other in the great race to a sliver of that sweet cash.

    QR codes are nice, but in that particular case, they offer no particular advantage over NFC. The miracle is rather that the store and the bank simply accepted the use of Alipay without throwing a fit and attempting to create their own incompatible and buggy system.

    1. IT veteran

      Well...

      "QR codes are nice, but in that particular case, they offer no particular advantage over NFC. The miracle is rather that the store and the bank simply accepted the use of Alipay without throwing a fit and attempting to create their own incompatible and buggy system."

      It probably helps that China is an authoritarian government which still has control over the banks...

      1. John 110
        Joke

        Re: Well...

        "control over the banks..."

        I recognize the individual words, but the actual sentence makes no sense to me...

        1. Tom 64
          Windows

          Re: Well...

          I think what he means is the bank execs still have to work under the threat of a 'disappearance', if they fuck up. Which they will, eventually.

      2. jasper pepper

        Re: Well...

        Well, of course, whereas in the democratic West the banks have the governments by the balls.

      3. YARR

        It probably helps that China is an authoritarian government which still has control over the banks...

        No it probably helps that QR codes work on the 700+ million low-end smartphones currently in use in China whereas western banks assume all western consumers will just buy a new high end smartphone every 18 months to get NFC (I wont - so it will be at least 5 years before I buy a phone that has NFC).

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Advantage of QR over NFC

      Crims can steal from NFC bank cards 40cm away without you noticing until the bill arrives. Victims have to actually point their camera at a QR code, and there is some hope that the phone might display the amount, who gets paid and an opportunity to cancel the transaction.

      1. NotBob

        Re: Advantage of QR over NFC

        I read that as the store scanned something on the phone. Either way, I see potential issues. My camera is broken, my buddy busted his screen. One of us is going to have problems.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Advantage of QR over NFC

        "Crims can steal from NFC bank cards 40cm away without you noticing until the bill arrives."

        HOW when Android Pay and Apple Pay both require you to UNLOCK your phone first? And if my phone goes off but not the store's PIN Pad, that raises a red flag right there.

      3. dajames Silver badge

        Re: Advantage of QR over NFC

        ... there is some hope that the phone might display the amount, who gets paid and an opportunity to cancel the transaction.

        Yes, that would be nice. It's certainly something I'd hope for ... though I wouldn't expect to get it.

    3. Stevie Silver badge

      Cheques???

      US financial transactions are overwhelmingly done by debit and credit cards. Cash is always an alternative. Paypal for mail xfers, though I dislike using it (it seems to be strangely popular with UK web stores for some reason, possibly due to usurious merchant account fees charged by British banks) is the norm.

      But for web and face-to-face sales, credit card/debit card is the norm.

      Only the Electric and Gas companies will take a check (proper US spelling since we are discussing US banking practice) and they typically process the transaction as a direct debit (the equivalent of getting a cheque cleared immediately through the aegis of the Bank of England).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cheques???

        No, most US entities still accept checks. Here's one thing: I don't want to publicly publish my bank account number - because then someone can make fake checks with my bank routing number and account number on them. Banks have too much invested in the status quo to change quickly.

        I prefer receiving a check to receiving cash for larger amounts :

        (1) I can deposit it to my account using a smartphone banking app which uses the camera to take pictures of the front and back.

        (2) Large amounts of cash have to be taken to the bank or kept in the safe - I just shred the checks when they've cleared.

        BUT:

        (1) the DEA is also happy that I prefer accepting checks.

        Consumers still write checks - every single damn person over 50 in front of me in the supermarket checkout, for example.

        1. Lou 2
          Alien

          Re: Cheques???

          What are these cheque things you speak off? They are a replacement for electronic cash? It is something made from paper your write on with a pen? And you can buy a cow or sheep with that?

          Magical stuff hey? Amazing that people are allowed these newly fangled trading methods in their villages.What happened to good old gold coins?

          Welcome to the real world mate where cash and cheques are things in museums

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Cheques???

            There is still a place for the humble cheque. Both at the low end, e.g inside a birthday card, and especially for high value payments.

            I was recently lucky enough to be able to pay for a flat with my own funds. I paid the deposit via bank transfer, this was over the online transfer limit so I thought I had to go into the branch. FOUR HOURS later (apointments not available for making a transfer, why don't you go online sir?) and £25 lighter I finally escaped.

            The bank (Barclays) made me wait two hours to see someone and then forced me into a chargable CHAPS same day transfer because they don't allow free faster payments transfers from personal accounts for more than the online transfer limit despite the system supporting up to £250,000 per payment. Effecting the transfer took nearly 2 hours and three members of staff as the first two weren't properly trained in how to do it.

            When the time came to pay the balance I gave the lawyer a cheque (there is no limit on cheques). Cleared in a few days, no hassle at all.

        2. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Cheques???

          And yet in Starbucks and Barnes & Noble and IHoP and any NY diner and any NY restaurant you'll see cash, and credit cards and debit cards being used to pay. Can't remember the last time I saw anyone so much as *try* and pass a check for their lunch or their books or their posh yuppie coffee.

      2. John PM Chappell

        Re: Cheques???

        As someone who worked for the largest bank in the US; no. Cheques (or checks, as you prefer) are real and constitute a large part of daily operations. They even constitute the bulk of fraud investigations (guess what I did ;) ).

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "OS makers are hindering each other in the great race to a sliver of that sweet cash."

      This is the primary reason not be an early adopter of anything. At least half of early adopters get badly stung, not because the chose the worst of the options, but because someone with deep pockets pumps many more groats into marketing their preferred system, bribing sellers and producers to use it. Few of the big big companiesm institutions or industries are prepared to play ball and co-operate. Either the systems involved include silly-money licencing fees to use the system (a la Apples per transaction fees) or others "invent" around the patents to make yet another incompatible system. This leaves us users, especially in terms of a payment system, having to have multiple identities,devices or apps to cope with all of them, or be locked out of some services.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It boils down to the Chinese writing...

    ... QR codes fit very well in it <G>. And when your language doesn't allow to create new words easily, any way to identify something easily is welcome.

    For payments, I'm a Luddite and still prefer those plastic cards with a chip on board. I'm not sure a phone app issuing QR codes is safe enough. And at least they don't need a charged battery.

    1. Nigel 11

      Re: It boils down to the Chinese writing...

      For payments, I'm a Luddite and still prefer those plastic cards with a chip on board

      Me too. 2-factor security: something you have *and* something you know. Also the UK legal situation: it's the credit card company's responsibility to prove that you owe them the money, in a court if necessary. It's far easier to be categorical if the hardware you used is provided to you by the card company, so if they so much as mention malware it is their problem by definition.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: It boils down to the Chinese writing...

        But how do you do two-factor security when many people are too stupid to KNOW anything?

        1. kmac499

          Re: It boils down to the Chinese writing...

          I suspect that anyone using pictograms for their written language doesn't find it all that strange that their phones communicate using a digital pictogram.

          QR codes are hopelessly under used here. I'm currently trying to craft one I can stick on the side of my motorcycle helmet for first responders:- Basic ID, Blood group,No allergies,Organ Donor and emergency phone number.

          1. David Nash Silver badge

            Helmets

            Basic ID, Blood group,No allergies,Organ Donor and emergency phone number.

            I'm interested to know how adding a QR code for this information is better than putting the information itself on the helmet. It's not a huge amount of info to find space for, say at the bottom on the back.

            1. moiety

              Re: Helmets

              Might want to protect the ID and emergency number, I suppose. I'd want blood group and the no allergies bit right up front; because you might need that in a real hurry.

              Also:

              http://www.visualead.com/qr-code-generator/plain-text/

            2. Gene Cash Silver badge

              Re: Helmets

              > I'm interested to know how adding a QR code for this information is better than putting the information itself on the helmet

              I'm interested to know what emergency responders would have a clue what a random QR code would be, twig that it has your medical info on it, and figure out how to read it. In less than a 3-day required course.

              Most of the American medical personnel have difficulties responding to a text. All the doctors and nurses are complete technical idiots and PROUD OF IT thankyouverymuch.

              Computer? Oh, that's something the MRI tech uses, and he's a lowly TECH. None of that for us!

              1. Dave 126 Silver badge

                Re: Helmets

                I'd be tempted to print the medical info, affix it to the helmet, then cover the info with a sticker bearing the Medic Alert symbol (snakey stick in red).

                Care to be given to making sure that the sticker is easy to peel off, whilst at the same secure against wind.

                Thought to be given to abrasion resistance.

                Here's hoping you never need it.

                1. moiety

                  Re: Helmets

                  Got to be careful with stickers and crash helmets...some adhesives don't play nice with fibreglass and/or the plastics that helmets are made of. Well, the solvents in the adhesive, more specifically.

                2. Gordon861

                  Re: Helmets

                  Just get a dogtag made up and wear it around your neck, any first responder with very little training will look for that. It will also go to the hospital with you when some idiot decides to remove your helmet.

                  However from discussions with doctors the blood type check is very quick and besides an emergency they will pump you with universal donor blood so it doesn't matter anyways.

            3. Lou 2
              Happy

              Re: Helmets

              So that our soon to be established robot overlords can read it at a glance. And decide to replace you with one of their robot mates.

          2. boltar Silver badge

            Re: It boils down to the Chinese writing...

            >QR codes are hopelessly under used here. I'm currently trying to craft one I can stick on the side of

            >my motorcycle helmet for first responders:- Basic ID, Blood group,No allergies,Organ Donor and

            >emergency phone number.

            Right. Because if you're a mangled mess on the road and they've just arrived and are hoping to save your life I can just imagine the situation:

            "Whats this QR code for. Anyone got a phone? Lets have a look."

            "Oh , doesn't work, anyone got another phone? Yeah, I'll wait a sec ... "

            "He's coughing blood, got that phone yet? Android 2.0? You kidding me, that won't work, Mick, what phone you got..."

            "Whats this? Unrecognised code... hold on, it got scratched in the crash, there we go!"

            "Viola, blood type AB....Shit, he just died."

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: It boils down to the Chinese writing...

              ""Viola, blood type AB....Shit, he just died."

              After all that, play a large violin? Sort of appropriate and inappropriate at the same time.

        2. Sureo

          Re: It boils down to the Chinese writing...

          "But how do you do two-factor security when many people are too stupid to KNOW anything?"

          If their ability to pay for things depends on it, they'll know...

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: It boils down to the Chinese writing...

            "If their ability to pay for things depends on it, they'll know..."

            Don't be so sure. Some people can't remember a PIN to save their lives, which is why they eventually fall back on cash...which means they get left out of cashless environments.

    2. stucs201

      Since you mentioned plastic cards

      It seems the phone in this case is just being used to display a code. So there's actually nothing about this system that needs the customer to have anything electronic - it seems it would work just as well with the QR code printed on a plastic card.

      I'm assuming here that the code is constant for a given account. Others seem to think it's a generated unique code for the transaction. The latter would be more secure, but the description in the article doesn't really make it clear which is actually the case.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Since you mentioned plastic cards

        There are several ways to pay with it. The QR code can be used both ways. Eg, a website will present you with a QR code when you get to the payment stage, you scan it with your phone, done.

        I've not yet had a chance to use it much, but from my many relations in China, there is no doubt its convenience has been enthusiastically adopted by the general population. It's now ubiquitous, when just 5 years ago, it simply did not exist.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It boils down to the Chinese writing...

      Chinese writing is probably one reason, but not the only one.

      The Chinese banking system was messy just a few years back, they had little support for international card schemes (Visa/MC), and their local market was /extremely/ fragmented.

      Imagine trying to recharge your mobile on the biggest telco, ChinaMobile - on the payment page, there were 30, yes, *thirty* different payment logos to select, one for each supported Chinese bank (and sadly, not mine...). No Visa, no MC, of course, but not even China UnionPay, which was still young.

      So new payment systems had a very different market to develop in, and took different paths. One may remember the QQ coin, which was so big 6 years ago that the government had to rein them in, and now doesn't get any mention anymore...

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Barcode Scanner on Play or FDroid

    Job done. It just works.

    I only use it to pass URLs from the browser to the phone by the way.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Barcode Scanner on Play or FDroid

      We use Barcode Scanner in an industrial application and it's fantastic. Scanning thousands of QR Codes a day with Motorola Moto-G's - Barcode Scanner scans instantly at any angle. Getting a good auto focus is key and oddly the cheaper devices seemed better at close up focus than some of the more expensive devices.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Barcode Scanner on Play or FDroid

        Funny, I happen to have a Symbol (Motorola) barcode scanner normally seen at POS units and so on. It seems to handle barcodes more readily than the Android Barcode Scanner. Pull the trigger, and it usually gets it in under a second as long as it has a reasonable line of sight to the target, doesn't even have to wait to focus. Plus unlike the Android scanner, it seems to comprehend light-on-dark barcodes as easily as the standard dark-on-light.

  6. Sil

    How are QR code or most smartphone payment systems any better than a credit card ? QR code is unsafe, and like URL shorteners a great way to lead to malware.

    1. Caff

      unique

      If your banking app creates a unique QR code for each transaction that is time limited than it would be more secure.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: unique

        Maybe, but:

        1) Access the phone - if you're not a moron, you need to type a PIN/password

        2) Launch the app

        3) Enter the app password (it does access your bank account, hope it has a separate password...)

        4) Ask for a QR code (hoping connectivity works, and you're not roaming)

        5) Hope nobody calls you in that very moment <G>

        6) Scan the code.

        sure, fingerprint readers and other technologies can simplify some of those steps, if you trust them. Roaming charges may be also an issue if you travel a lot.

        Compared to

        1) Get the card

        2) Plug the card (if it is not contactless)

        3) Type the PIN

        Moreover card payments are usually made over interoperable networks using common standards. I.e. Italy uses the "Bancomat" system, which is a consortium not controlled by a single entity, and is broadly supported both by banks (and the likes), and payment systems (POS and automatic systems, ATMs, highways). It would take a lot of time and money to replace all those systems with QR reading ones, and I'm not sure it would become more user friendly, using a phone to pay still looks clumsy to me. It looks to me more a useful backup feature if your card no longer works (or is stolen or lost), than the primary system.

        Maybe because unlike many I don't walk looking at a phone in front of me...

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: unique

          "Moreover card payments are usually made over interoperable networks using common standards."

          But in China, the standards don't exist, cards are easily FAKED, and they don't use Chips. Meanwhile, ANYONE who is is anyone has a phone there. So pulling out the phone is no big shakes for them as they usually have it on hand ANYWAY.

          1. AdamWill

            Re: unique

            Well, I mean, nearly everyone has a phone everywhere. But we *don't* generally walk around with it unlocked and the banking app loaded.

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: unique

              "Well, I mean, nearly everyone has a phone everywhere. But we *don't* generally walk around with it unlocked and the banking app loaded."

              It's not that hard. You just turn it on while you're in line or as you make your approach.

        2. AdamWill

          Re: unique

          Or compared to:

          1) take card from wallet

          2) tap card

          done. NFC is not particularly secure (though if you're worried you can always buy a lead-lined wallet or whatever), but it sure *is* incredibly convenient. And I dunno about 'the West', but in Canada it's more unusual to find a place which *doesn't* accept contactless payment than one which does, now.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: unique

            "1) take card from wallet

            2) tap card"

            You mean:

            1) Take card from wallet.

            2) Tap card, but pad refuses to read. Try again, doesn't work.

            3) Say sod this and swipe, only to remember it's a Chip card.

            4) Try to insert the Chip, but it's broken.

            5) Call the whole thing off.

            OR:

            1) Take card from wallet.

            2) Tap card, but find out the NFC reader's turned off.

            Plus, consider many people don't like to carry their wallets around (for fear of identity theft) or have no way to (because their clothes have no pockets) but they still have ways to carry their phone (like on a clip).

        3. Adrian 4 Silver badge

          Re: unique

          Yes, but it's on your PHONE ! So it's more convenient ! No need to carry that thin, flexible, waterproof card everywhere you go when you can just take a power-hogging fragile connection-needing contract-paying phone instead !

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Exactly my thoughts

      QR codes are blindly obvious targets for scammers. You have no idea what is contained in those codes. The same goes for URL Shortening.

      I did try a QR code once. Led me to a Pron site before I could blink an eye. Thankfully I'd booted off an Linux DVD and used it from there.

      I've been asked to scan QR codes to get discounts. Nope. Don't trust them.

      Sorry but IMHO these both fail in big ways.

      You really don't know what you are letting yourself in for.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Exactly my thoughts

        I did try a QR code once. Led me to a Pron site before I could blink an eye."

        Really? The one and only time you tried it you got scammed into visiting a porn site?

        Now, I'll be the first to admit I don't really like the idea and am very aware of the chances of being scammed by them, but certainly I tried out quite a number in the early days and don't recall any "bad" ones.

        You seem to have been very, very unlucky.

    3. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      It's the shop that reads the QR code...

      In the payment example, your phone generates the QR code, and the supermarket cashier scans it. Presumably the code contains, as a minimum, the bank and account number, and a OTP to authorise a single transaction. There is no need for an URL that could lead to malware, and the supermarket would be crazy to parse it and use it as an URL.

      There may be other ways to exploit it, but the QR code isn't a flaw in itself, it's just a way of transferring some data.

    4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "QR code is unsafe, and like URL shorteners a great way to lead to malware."

      AIUI this system reverses the normal QR situation. The customer, via the phone, presents the QR code to the store. The customer is not at risk of a malicious code and, if the till software is in any way sane, it's not going to interpret the code as a URL. If the code doesn't make sense within the requirements of the payment system it's just going to decline the transaction.

      What's not clear in all this is how the system guards against fake codes. I take it there must be some dynamic element in generating the code.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        "What's not clear in all this is how the system guards against fake codes. I take it there must be some dynamic element in generating the code."

        Probably by way of a one-time code. The phone sends the code to the bank, the store reads the barcode and sends that information along, the bank lines it up, and gives the OK to the store.

  7. cambsukguy

    I don't scan them too often, because I use WP and my phone doesn't run most of the apps that the codes I see point to.

    But when I do scan a code, it usually has the URL displayed before I even get to point the camera properly.

    I think the only issue of non-uptake is the fact that we have so many competing systems.

    Fortunately, having a wireless CC means that most payments are swift and painless anyway, so I don't really care.

    Now, if I could only get my scammy bank to stop charging a fee for *every* foreign transaction, making all but enormous purchases equivalent to theft, I could have used it here outside the UK.

  8. DougS Silver badge

    QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

    Since they aren't human readable, you don't know what site you are visiting until you are already there. It might be a site that is made to look identical to the one you want to visit, but isn't.

    There are plenty of available attacks against Android phones that can p0wn them if you can just get the owner to visit a particular website. Even in the latest version of Android, but of course few people have the latest version, especially in China. Getting them to visit your malware infested website is really hard to do if they have to type in the URL, but is simple if you can get them scan your QR code! Who would notice if the QR code part of an ad in a public place with a lot of people like a subway or airport was simply papered over with the rest of the ad left as is?

    This is a great exploit waiting to happen in China. We in the west will be mostly immune only because we didn't really adopt QR codes. And that's a good thing.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

      The most likely candidate for exploits in China is the State, and they don't need it since they control the phones in other ways...

    2. DropBear Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

      Why the hell would you not know what site you're visiting?!? Who told you to check your equivalent of the option "open URLs automatically"...? Whatever I scan ends up displayed as plaintext first, then I get to decide what if anything I want to do with it...

      1. Ian 7

        Re: QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

        So are you happy to click on http://bit.ly/29BwXvC - you can see what the URL is, yep? No problem, right...?

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

          > ...click on http://bit.ly/29BwXvC

          I just did that. You creative bastard! (changed to an upvote, though).

          To follow commentards: short-link downvotes DropBear's preceding post.

        2. Mr Flibble

          Re: QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

          Barcode Scanner reads the QR code and, if the content is a URL, does an HTTP GET. It'll show appropriate information, if any – target URL (in the case that a 301 or 302 response was received) or the page title. Useful, but not quite ideal (could be a large amount of data being returned).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

            But most shorteners don't do true redirects. They plaster ads and so on to force human intervention, meaning the scanner can't decipher the shortened URL. Plus cleverdick malware pushers sometimes employ Unicode URLs that look like real site names to further trick you.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

          RC=0 stuartl@vk4msl-mb ~ $ wget --spider http://bit.ly/29BwXvC

          Spider mode enabled. Check if remote file exists.

          --2016-07-17 18:14:35-- http://bit.ly/29BwXvC

          Resolving bit.ly... 67.199.248.11, 67.199.248.10

          Connecting to bit.ly|67.199.248.11|:80... connected.

          HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 301 Moved Permanently

          Location: http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2016/07/13/smartphones_arent_tiny_pcs_but_thats_how_we_use_them_in_the_west/?thanks=2917077#c_2917077 [following]

          Spider mode enabled. Check if remote file exists.

          --2016-07-17 18:14:37-- http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2016/07/13/smartphones_arent_tiny_pcs_but_thats_how_we_use_them_in_the_west/?thanks=2917077

          Resolving forums.theregister.co.uk... 104.20.25.212, 104.20.24.212

          Connecting to forums.theregister.co.uk|104.20.25.212|:80... connected.

          HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 405 Method Not Allowed

          Remote file does not exist -- broken link!!!

          Cheeky sod!

      2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: QR codes are a great way to point people at malmare

        That's fine but most are shortened URLs so you still have no idea where the hell you're going to wind up...

  9. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Rubbish

    I've recently used QR codes/barcodes for both airport boarding passes, and the Whatsapp web authentication system. Both work without an issue.

    It's only URLs that are potentially an issue.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Rubbish

      Similarly, quite a few tickets for gigs and festivals use QR codes... they are often emailed as PDFs, and can either be printed out, or presented to the door staff on the screen of my phone. The door/gate staff will either use some dedicated stock control hardware or a bog-standard mobile phone to scan my QR code.

      I've even been in a queue for a gig when our party has realised we're a ticket short, and my mate has bought one online on his phone before we reached the gate.

      It strikes me that the system is cheaper to administrate than sending out hologram-embossed pieces of card.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Rubbish

        For limited uses barcodes of all sorts can be used. 7-Eleven has a partnership with PayNearMe that lets people pay all sorts of bills (or even buy Greyhound bus tickets) using PayNearMe barcodes they just take to a nearby 7-Eleven. It can be printed or displayed on their phone.

        And airlines are already using PDF417 2D barcodes on their boarding passes. People who check in online can print them out themselves.

  10. WonkoTheSane Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Paying for fuel

    Shell, here in the UK, have a phone app that lets you use Paypal to fill your car.

    Each pump on every one of their forecourts has its own QR code, which tells the company which pump you've used, and therefore how much to charge you.

    Which is weird, as petrol stations generally also have a sign telling you to NOT use your phone!

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Paying for fuel

      Using your phone on a filling station forecourt is actually ILLEGAL in the UK.

      Sure, the law goes back to the days of Analogue phones but it is still illegal.

      1. Dieter Haussmann

        Re: Paying for fuel

        It clearly states within the App and on the pump to REMAIN IN YOUR CAR AND SCAN THE QR CODE and LEAVE YOUR PHONE IN THE CAR AS MOBILE PHONES ARE PROHIBITED ON THE FORECOURT.

        It is rubbish though, often the 'system' is down and you have to preselect the amount of fuel you want to dispense and if you dispense less, it takes 7 days to get a refund. It is much easier to use a pay at pump station or visit the kiosk, it is only useful if you are money laundering or forgot your wallet but have your phone.

        The only use I have found for QR codes in recent years in enrolling mobile devices in Meraki Systems Manager MDM.

        1. Yugguy

          Re: Paying for fuel

          "preselect the amount of fuel you want to dispense"

          Ok, just bear with me while I siphon out what's still in there so I can subtract it from the total capacity and then I can let you know.

          Or I could just stick the nozzle in, fill up until stops and then pay by card. That seems to work and really wasn't crying out to be buggered about with.

        2. WonkoTheSane Silver badge

          Re: Paying for fuel

          I often book cinema tickets online, and they come as QR codes the drone at the entrance scans onto a work phone to tell me which screen / row / seat (Which I already know).

      2. Dangermouse 1

        Re: Paying for fuel

        [CITATION NEEDED]

      3. Throatwobbler Mangrove

        Re: Paying for fuel

        "Using your phone on a filling station forecourt is actually ILLEGAL in the UK."

        No, it's not (unless you're a petroleum storage licence holder or driving a tanker of some sort).

        http://www.ukpia.com/industry_issues/health-and-safety/mobile-phones-on-forecourts.aspx

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Paying for fuel

      The US doesn't have such laws at present, but the fuel pumps here are leaning more towards NFC, especially with NFC payment on the rebound with Android and Apple Pay. Sonic Drive-In uses a numeric code combined with their app. When you want to pay by app, you punch the code (likely a one-time-use code coordinated with a central clearinghouse) in the app and the clearinghouse coordinates the purchase.

  11. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    It's not the phones

    The article should actually be focussing on how sophisticated Alibaba, WeChat, TenCent, et al. are.

    They are incredibly competitive and innovative and will probably eat most of Silicon Valley for lunch. So don't blame the users, blame the VCs for favouring the network effect over utility and value.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's not the phones

      Are they? Or are they just filling a gap in the Chinese system? Is using a smartphone everywhere, really clever, or just plain sully, too many eggs in one basket?

      Is this truly a sophisticated payment method, or just a simpler solution for a country where probably everybody now has a smartphone, but payments cards are less common, and where a single big company with the proper hooks can enforce whatever it likes?

      Frankly, I would not like a non-interoperable payment system controlled by a single entity like Alibaba or Apple. It is bad for seller as well - the more systems you have to accept, the more expensive for you is.

      Is a chat app "sophisticated"? A chat app is the demo app everybody wrote while learning socket programming. Processing a QR code is probably a little more complex, but it's not rocket science, they are designed to be processed, it's not generic image recognition. I've been using boarding passes with bar/QR codes for years, even from phone apps, and never had issues for them to be processed.

      Silicon Valley too is too obsessed with stupid apps and slurping data - and unluckily more activities go through a phone, more slurping by single entities happens... right now my phone maker doesn't know about my purchases. And I'm not sure I want it to know - where, when, what and how much. Nor I want to many entities looking for fees on each payment....

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: It's not the phones

        Are they?

        Yes, because they compete with each other. Silicon Valley prefers monopolies or at least cartels otherwise the valuations don't make sense.

        Your other criticisms are not without merit. But this isn't about the complexity of the technology but of the value proposition to the user. The Chinese companies really are streets ahead there.

        As for data protection: well, it's China isn't it? The state always has access to all your data.

  12. Lotaresco
    Big Brother

    Cool... err say what?

    So all I have to do is to live on slave wages, give up any ridiculous notions I may have of human dignity, the right to a fair trial or even the right to read a book of my choosing and I can use QR codes?

    Bargain.

    All that freedom from arbitrary arrest, torture and instant execution for harvested body parts is sooo over rated in the West.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: Cool... err say what?

      So all I have to do is to live on slave wages, give up any ridiculous notions I may have of human dignity, the right to a fair trial or even the right to read a book of my choosing and I can use QR codes?

      Welcome to the United Kingdom. We can also use NFC for payments therefore we are marginally ahead of the PRC.

    2. Long John Brass Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Cool... err say what?

      So all I have to do is to live on slave wages, give up any ridiculous notions I may have of human dignity, the right to a fair trial or even the right to read a book of my choosing and I can use QR codes?

      They use QR codes in the USofA?

  13. Lotaresco

    I liked the BBC campaign...

    ... for "The Fades" that used an animated QR code that worked despite the distortion. Even if I found "The Fades" to be a bit tedious.

    The Fades QR Code

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: I liked the BBC campaign...

      These QR Codes work because they can be built with error codes that allows part of the barcode to be mangled and still be readable. If you see a barcode with a logo in the middle, it's relying on the error code to recover the spot the logo covers up.

  14. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Waste of time

    Most of the damned things were just used to get us to scan in URLs for some stupid bit of marketing.

    Why the f*** would we want to do their work for them and jump into their marketing s**t?

  15. LosD

    Holy hell you are behind if it is as bad as this article suggests.

    In Denmark we have two major competing systems (MobilePay/Swipp) for transferring to friends and stores using your smartphone. I don't know much about Swipp, but MobilePay supports QR codes, NFC and Bluetooth. Scan, accept, done.

    If you want to send money to a friend or a shop without a MobilePay box, enter the amount and his/her phone number, check that it is the correct person, accept and done. They will get a notification that you sent money within a few seconds. You can also request money that way (which they of course need to accept), and add an optional message if you like.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      I think most of that is taken up in the US by Google Wallet, PayPal, and similar systems, all of which have been in place for a while already.

      Heck, even Walmart's recently taken up the mobile payment craze using QR Codes (through their app, so it isn't a URL IINM).

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    marvellous

    and I applaud the good people of China's People's Republic (and their glorious leaders of course!), but I for the time being I'll keep using my phone as a phone (and a "computer"), as long s it's not been banned and punishable by firing squad, thankyouverymuch.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    LevelUp

    It was LevelUp who tried to pioneer QR code payments, over in the US at least. We still have barcode scanning peripherals in work to regression test payments with it, though I'm not even sure anyone in production actually uses it, we maintain it as an option.

    In the UK, QR codes seemed to be primarily used in adverts to direct to online adverts. A bit like Shazam is doing for sound. So they have a bit of negative association with them, almost an augmented banner ad.

  18. D@v3

    Still in use in UK

    As others have mentioned, QR codes still get a fair bit of use.

    I have two loyalty cards in my Apple wallet one for a well known coffee shop that isn't star bucks and the other for a well know sandwich shop, both of which use a QR code, works really well and is quite convenient.

  19. Patrician

    Advertising - QR Cosed

    The problem was that QR Codes were only used by the advertising industry to try to get us to scan their posters and bill boards; why they think anyone would want to scan a QR Code that was on an advertising bill board I'll never know. But the upshot is that we mentally linked QR Codes with all the bad stuff that comes out of the advertising world and we're never going to break that connection now.

  20. Slx

    I've used QR codes regularly enough in Ireland for loyalty cards on my mobile.

    They work pretty well and I just "paid" for a coffee with one a bit earlier this morning.

    One thing I'm noticing here is various attempts to use smartphone loyalty systems being hampered by laser scanner that can't read screen displayed barcodes or QR codes.

    I've basically given up on Stocard because it rarely works or cause delays as they end up having to type it in manually.

    Ultimately, business adopts technologies where they provide a clear advantage. In a world of ubiquitous contactless credit and debit cards, it's hard to convince people mobile payments are any great advantage.

  21. Lotaresco
    Flame

    Directions

    The place I usually encounter QR codes these days is at airports (in Italy) where they are used to issue directions such for how to get to the next terminal or where the car hire location is.

    And the thing that strikes me is... I have to open my phone, load an app, point the camera at the QR code, wait for a site to load where I will then get a piss-poor web design droid's idea of what is "useful" information including some very poor maps with no reference points that I can't begin to interpret. Of course the real point of this is to capture data about me and what services I will pay for.

    OTOH a sign saying TERMINAL 2 --> or CAR HIRE --> works much better including about a meeelion times faster. Pointless cock-wombling technology.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Directions

      Well, the app may still be useful for people who have trouble following signs or can't read the native language or English.

  22. Youngdog

    Can a billion people be wrong?

    As someone who has tried eating fish porridge for lunch I would say - yes, most definitely.

  23. Lyndon Hills 1

    YoYo

    the web site isn't great, but the canteen at work takes this. yoyo.com. this uses qr codes, and from observation is quick to recognise the code.

  24. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    Bar & QR Codes suck for the blind.

    A sigil we can't see to know is there, requiring the ability to aim a camera at accurately, visual confirmation that the scanning device has indeed scanned the code properly, on a device we can't see the screen of, all to do something we probably need a Sighted Minion for to complete anyway.

    Bar codes & QR codes may be nice for you sighted folks, but they absolutely *suck arse* for those of us whom can't see them to interact with them in the first place.

    *Sighs*

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Bar & QR Codes suck for the blind.

      I presume that touchscreen interfaces suck even harder.

      Buttons you can't even tell exist

      1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        Re: Bar & QR Codes suck for the blind.

        Enjoy a pint on me for nailing it in one.

        I have no clue as to how other Blind folks manage to use an Android device since even the Accessibility tutorial fails to be accessible: in the lesson on how to enter text into a Text Entry Field (TEF) it wants you to make an up-&-right swipe gesture to trigger the TEF. Except it doesn't matter where you start on the screen it gives the error "Oops. You've missed the [TEF]. Please try again!" There's no way to "touch to explore" like you're supposed to be able to in order to find the TEF in the first place, so there's no way to complete that part of the tutorial. An Accessibility tutorial that doesn't take into account a BLIND person can't see the screen to hit an arbitrary target. Brilliant. Just fekkin brilliant.

        Which leaves Apple. The Screen Reader Environment (SRE) is much better & lets you do most things either completely hands free or it'll talk you through how to do things. I've never used it myself but my Assistive Technology instructor swears by Apple as having the best SRE bar none.

        But yes, a touch screen is inherently a fucked up concept. A screen we can't see to read, buttons that only exist visually, on screen buttons with zero Haptic feedback to let us know where they are / if we've pressed them / if the device has registered a (entirely virtual) click, and no way to know what the fek is going on unless & until the device deins to talk to us.

        Don't even get me started on those fekkin Capacitence buttons - we can't see them to press them, they get pressed even if we don't want to press them, & the device "suddenly goes apeshit" because they've been pressed & give us no clue as to that fact.

        It's why I'm still on a Feature phone. I can feel the keypad buttons to press them, the raised dot on the #5 is large enough for my insulin dependant diabetic constantly finger-stuck for blood tests "fat fingers" can find, & the phone has a basic SRE. Granted it could be better, but I'm not about to spend ~$500USD on a "SmartPhone" that's too fekkin stupid to include actual buttons.

        Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go stick my head in a bucket of ice water to cool off. The SmartPhone manufacturer's make me want to beat the shite out of them with a Clue-by-four.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Bar & QR Codes suck for the blind.

          I wondered how someone like yourself would get on with a touchscreen device. Basically about as well as I thought: not very well.

          About the only thing I could think of to aid usability would be to have a mode where you drag your finger across the screen like a mouse cursor with the vibration motor pulsing as you pass over the border of a UI element, then to "click", you'd lift your finger off momentarily.

          Even then, I think it'd be a far inferior UI to what you have now in that "feature phone". A cross between the two is really what is needed. (Maybe buttons on the "case", via a Bluetooth link? Not sure.)

  25. ChubbyBehemoth

    Forward or backward?

    Using QR codes here in China is a good alternative for bankcards. Everyone has a phone, including the shopkeepers, so that has a high acceptance. It can also be used for transactions from person to person, by scanning their QR code, checking the amount and agreeing. In an economy that used to rely/ is relying on cash in large amounts, the acceptance of these payments systems is quite a breakthrough.

    Considering that some years ago there was a report on finding 800 million RMB of graft in 100 bills stored in a villa cash here has a definite function. The fact that any payment system took off comes a bit as a surprise. But you can pay the taxi driver and restaurant with it, it can be easily incorporated with the winXP run system and everybody is happy for not having to run around with cash. The security around it certainly beats credit cards and transactions can be done with little hassle.

    Add to this the fact that you can use the QR code to bypass the trouble of having to browse through a lot of options how to write a word in one of the 43.000 characters, having to remember nicely mnenonic web site addresses like SXQ143.cn or something similar and the success of the QR code here becomes a lot clearer. Easy access and ease of transaction are the keys here.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Forward or backward?

      Never thought of it that way. We westerners have it easy when it comes to e-communication because we only have to wrestle with about 40-60 symbols at a time depending on the nature of the conversation. Phone input systems can do 40-60 symbols easily enough. Several thousand? That's going to require a different approach.

  26. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Clarification needed

    So how does the Chinese system work then?

    Does the till display a QR code that encodes "pay XXX yuan to account YYY", the phone picks that up and displays to the user "pay XXX yuan to account YYY - authorise?", the user selects YES and the phone tells the bank to send the money.

    Or, does the phone display a QR code that encodes "my account is ZZZ", the till scans that, and tells the bank "transfer XXX yuan from account ZZZ to YYY". In that case, where's the customer authorisation other than the physical proffering of the QR code? How does the retailer know that the proffered QR code is actually the customer's QR code? A QR code is a QR code is a QR code, there's nothing physically preventing you displaying somebody else's QR code, and it's so much easier than stealing somebody's contactless debit card.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Clarification needed

      "A QR code is a QR code is a QR code, there's nothing physically preventing you displaying somebody else's QR code..."

      Except each QR Code is probably only good ONCE since it's probably salted with a One-Time Password.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Clarification needed

      I think it works like this:

      1. User runs the WeChat Pay app, phone displays a secret QR code

      2. Merchant scans QR code, sends payment request to AliPay

      3. Payment request shows up on user's screen, PIN code needed to confirm transaction

      4. If correct PIN code is entered, payment is processed and merchant terminal spits out receipt

      I assume the QR code is an OTP used to encode the user's AliPay account number. You can also set a daily or per transaction limit for bank accounts linked to the AliPay account.

  27. This post has been deleted by its author

  28. John Savard Silver badge

    Canada

    We definitely don't use them as much as in China, but QR codes are still visible on advertisements a lot here.

  29. Nostok

    There is a QR system in use in Luxembourg

    An overview of the app used and how it works from a consumer viewpoint are here:

    https://www.bcee.lu/index.php/en/mobile/s-digicash

  30. Vinyl-Junkie
    Thumb Up

    Best use of QR codes I've found...

    ..is in museums. Being interested in anything man-made that rolls, moves or flies I get to a fair number of transport museums. The small panels in front of many exhibits are now being embellished with QR codes that give you more information than will fit on a panel (or that the casual visitor would be prepared to read) plus videos, sound files, etc. Want to know what that Merlin engine in front of you sounds like at full chat? Scan the QR code. Want to see how a Waveney class lifeboat behaves in heavy seas? Scan the..., well you get the picture.

    Really helps enhance the experience, IMHO.

  31. Sporkinum

    yes they are.

    Smartphones are tiny PCs. They may be used differently, but they are exactly that. Why would you even say the weren't?

  32. Bullseyed

    NFC is more advanced than QRC.

    People in China are less concerned about security, so they can use lower grade tech that we got rid of for security reasons.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    QR codes on phones for secure transactions are comonly used in the west...

    ...anyone who has used them at an airport check-in gate as an electronic boarding card will know that if a QR code is used by a trusted app/site, then read using a barcode scanner by someone able to close that identity loop and verify the information encoded in the QR, then it is trustworthy enough to get you on a plane.

    That should be good enough for buying your groceries, too.

  34. HildyJ

    Starbucks

    I don't know about the UK (or the iPhone) but my US, Android, Starbucks app generates a set of QR codes which are read by the same laser scanner that Starbucks uses to scan in items purchased. Why more chains couldn't adopt this is beyond me. Hell, I'd even be willing to install their app if they did.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Starbucks

      "Hell, I'd even be willing to install their app if they did."

      But that's where it all goes so badly wrong. Separate and incompatible apps for each and every store or business. We nee some sort of standardised system where you can use an app or whatever, anywhere, just like you can use a credit/debit card almost anywhere.

      We all know why it happens this way. Each large business wants to collect as much data as they can, narrowed down to a specific person, and that's a bit harder to do on a 3rd party "open" and standardised system. It also allows you to go anywhere for products or services whereas a unique app gently leads you back to the same supplier each time because you don't want 300 payment apps on your phone.

  35. DCLXV

    It's because of the apps

    The blame lies with Apple and Google for not making QR reader apps standard utilities for their OS. If you want to read a QR code with a new phone, you can't. I don't see why this would have been too much to ask but apparently it was.

    Oh, and no, we don't *exclusively* use smartphones as tiny PCs in the West. I'm pretty damn certain the Pokemon Go phenomenon has proven that exact point. Aren't these articles fact-checked at all before publication?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: It's because of the apps

      "Oh, and no, we don't *exclusively* use smartphones as tiny PCs in the West. I'm pretty damn certain the Pokemon Go phenomenon has proven that exact point. Aren't these articles fact-checked at all before publication?"

      IINM this article was published BEFORE the release of Pokemon Go. And frankly, this whole brouhaha reminds me a lot of Angry Birds. It'll flare for a while and then slowly tamp down to a controlled burn.

  36. Gigabob

    Guess you don't you fly much

    QR codes are everywhere you fly - not sure how you avoid them unless you blog in the desert from under a rock. I appreciate the lack of appeal to western eyes with our preference for block letters vs the Asian Kanji characters that QR codes could seem to resemble - sort of a 3D bar code.

    I think your bigger point is that "Good is the enemy of Great". For your information that point was already made and your notion that we in the west are in a form of "Arrested Development" due to satisficing with our better but less advanced purchase models (active credit model vs cash to phone payments in some parts of Asia), I think you have missed two key points.

    The first is that current credit models are pervasive, good enough and already facilitate transactions. What difference does it make if I swipe my credit card at the grocery store vs flash my phone?

    The larger point is a cyber-security deficit. Phones are already barely secure - and linking your bank to the phone leaves your accounts vulnerable to attack if the phone is compromised. Here in the US, the federal security agencies want to open your phone to their attack, even as manufacturers like Apple and Google try to encrypt everything with increasing sophistication. I will not link my direct deposit account to a mobile device until I know Fed Flunkies do not have ready access. Remember a direct deposit account also enables direct withdrawals.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Guess you don't you fly much

      "Remember a direct deposit account also enables direct withdrawals."

      Oh? Where does it say that? Last I checked, direct deposits and direct debits had to be authorized separately.

  37. da

    I have a considerable amount of evidence to suggest that in the USA and the EU, a lot of people did not use their PCs, or know how to use them.

    The smartphone world has a couple of rules:

    #1: follow the pack

    #2: know very little

    ____

    Technology adoption seems to be about "critical mass". It doesn't surprise me that different nationalities take to different technologies. This is not because there is any reasonable premise behind it which is related to the particular technology, it's simply down to who achieves a critical mass of users for the majority to follow within that cultural environment.

    ____

    I would even say that with China compared to "the west", China sees itself as a place rushing into a future that will be completely different to today.

    In the West, we are largely ruled by "conservatives".

    What stops any one of a thousand technologies taking off? Conservative & luddite attitudes. With the huge majority being the users. User adoption is the challenge. Often affluent 'busy' people have no time to even *think* about changing their habits. Hence almost nobody bought handheld PCs, but bought telephones (and complained like stink that they weren't obvious enough to use, and that they didn't like computer stuff).

    In fact, in the west the entire computer industry and automation industry has been treated as a form of very threatening and destabilising presence by most of industry, and there is typically very little optimism about "the latest new thing".

    We have a problem of "backwards compatibility". Lots of people, when it comes to computers, are basically "backwards". What is interesting about that phenomenon is that the European dogma of the 18th century seems to prevail, that europeans are quite automatically the world leader in technological advancement.

    That has not been the case in the past, and it should not be assumed to be the case in the present.

    Certainly I would argue that China did not have the dark ages, and that a good portion of the technology and philosophy that powered the industrial revolution originated in China.

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