Before the year ends, Microsoft will ship its Xbox video games and some DVDs with a new type of barcode.
You'll know if you buy something with one: The multi-colored triangle-based patterns are pretty hard to miss. They look a lot like those pictures so popular in the 1990s -- the ones where you stared and stared at a bunch of dots until suddenly a sail boat jumped out at you.
Why? The purpose is not to replace the traditional black and white barcodes. Instead, the new design will be a supplement - up to two pages of data supplement, in fact.
But there's another purpose: The barcode includes an embedded nanoparticle, making it effectively an anti-counterfeiting device.
That's pretty sneaky. Still, you can hardly blame Microsoft or Hollywood for wanting to protect their licenses and copyrights. But is it right to do that with what is, it seems to me, effectively miniature spyware?
The second part of this idea that bothers me is they want me to scan this thing with a Web cam or, eventually, a color mobile phone. The bait is information such as a Web address or e-mail, with the promise of additional information.
The idea that someone would use my minutes to upsell me more things just irritates me. It's bad enough I have to keep buying additional minutes because my friends and family keep calling the cell phone, even when I'm standing right by my wired line. Now I have to pay for Microsoft or Miramax or some such mega-corp to advertise to me? No thank you.
Of course, Microsoft isn't focusing on those uses. It's selling it as a way to communicate pricing information, ratings and so on. That seems like a good idea -- as long as Microsoft isn't burning my minutes.
This isn't the first or only attempt to create another barcode. The US Postal Service, for instance, offers a very successful postage system using a 2D barcode.