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Why the Chinese love clunky QR codes, despite privacy and security shortcomings

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As you may have noticed, there’s a lot of interest in bitcoin at the moment. According to one analysis, a key factor driving the digital currency to record highs is rising demand from China. That may be true for serious investors there, but for most of China’s billion-plus citizens, when it comes to digital payments, there’s a far more important – and far more humble – technology: QR (Quick Response) codes. A recent article in the South China Morning Post reveals the extraordinary size of the QR economy in China:

“According to internet consulting firm iResearch, payments made via mobile devices by Chinese consumers last year reached 38 trillion yuan (US$5.5 trillion, HK$43 trillion), more than half the nation’s GDP.

Thanks to QR code’s rapidly increasing usage at off-line shops, the amount of mobile payments on the mainland is now 50 times greater than that of the US. Mobile payments in the US totalled US$112 billion in 2016, according to Forrester Research.”

China’s embrace of QR codes contrasts with the almost complete indifference in the rest of the world. That gulf seems to be down to one key online service – WeChat – still little-known in the West despite its dominant role in China’s digital realm. WeChat was first launched in 2011 as Weixin (“micro-message” in Chinese). It was originally a basic messaging app, but as its popularity has grown, it has become a complete mobile Internet platform, offering every kind of social media function, as well as an integrated digital payment system that has allowed it to become an important e-commerce platform. It has recently added a search engine and news feeds, and has around 900 million active users.

Central to the way people use WeChat is the QR code, as the Wall Street Journal explained earlier

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