Monday, June 16, 2014

QR Code Censor

I've always thought QR codes were fascinating, but I only recently got myself a smartphone, and downloaded a code scanning app, so for a long time they were this neat thing that I had heard about, and occasionally seen, but never actually tried out before. But I did have this brilliant idea for using QR codes that I'm finally able to test out. I'm not 100% certain what planted the seed of this idea in my head (I won't claim to be the first or only person to think of this, although I'm pretty sure I came up with the idea independently of anyone else), but certainly it's been germinating as a result of my recent experiences on deviantART.

Unlike Flickr (which I had used previously), deviantART doesn't allow explicit sexual content. So, there's been a number of times when I've had to withhold certain images from sharing, most of the time due to the appearance of an erection, and in some cases I've had to post one version of an image and merely allude to the existence of a more explicit version - which inevitably whets the appetite of a certain subsection of my watchers/fans. So I've been thinking of alternative possible ways to advertise an explicit image without showing what it is the censors don't want people to see.

I've never been fond of censorship of any kind, but lately I've been thinking that QR codes could actually be used in a censorial capacity that I might not mind so much. In place of the typical, destructive black censorship bar, which basically tells you "there's parts of this image that I'm not going to let you see (for whatever reasons)", the QR code (linked to an uncensored version of the image), while covering up the offending portions of the image, isn't so much blocking sight of the censored part as it is actively advertising and providing access to the uncensored image.

Which is great. Usually, with a censored image, if you want the uncensored version, you have to hunt for it, and it can be hard to find. With the QR code as the censor bar, as long as you have a scanner, you can just point your phone at it and voilĂ , the uncensored image shows up! Obviously, the same thing could be accomplished with a simple URL listed after the image, or by providing a "click-through" to get to the uncensored version, but something about making the censor bar itself the link to the thing it's obscuring just tickles me pink. It's interactive, it's fun, and it seems to me like a far more positive approach to censorship.

Rather than the mindset of "there are some things you shouldn't see, and we're protecting you from them", this is more like a "this image is censored because some people are easily offended, but if you want to see the uncensored version, here it is" - plus, in having the censor bar itself be the link to the uncensored image, there's really no way you can separate the censored image from the uncensored version, without actually further modifying the image, because the link to the uncensored version is an intrinsic part of the censored image (and indeed, the censorship itself)!

Just think of the practical applications! You could hide x-rated content in plain sight! Of course, it's quite possible that lawmakers and busybodies would treat such "QR code censorship" as equivalent to providing direct links to pornographic material. I, for one, wouldn't feel entirely comfortable posting a QR code-censored image on my deviantART profile, as I could easily imagine the staff interpreting such a code as equivalent to a hyperlink - which is disallowed. But still, my mind reels with the implications of this technology.

You could print a QR code on a t-shirt and wear it in public. How would that be treated? There's nothing about the code itself that's indecent, but what if it links to a pornographic image? I'm not aware of x-rated hyperlinks (at least ones that don't contain explicit language) being illegal to display in public (although I could be inadequately informed on that point). What if a minor wore a QR code that linked to pornography? Would that be illegal? Even if he'd never visited the link? Would school administrators be within their rights to force him to change? Think of people who get indecent tattoos. A QR code would be totally innocuous, but at the same time a direct link to something potentially pornographic.

I'm sure there has to be a practical application for the QR code censor. It's just too neat to pass up. In demonstration, each of the images on this page - which are some of my more "pornographic" photographs from the last year or so - has offending portions censored by a QR code that links to an uncensored version of the image. If you have a smartphone with a QR scanner (or some other way to scan QR codes), give it a try! (You may have to expand the images to get a good reading).

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