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Does privacy increase the chances of returning lost and found items with QR code labels?

This article originally appeared on PingTag’s blog. You can read the full version here.

QR codes have become mainstream thanks to restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores using them for touch-less interaction during and after the pandemic.

One of the increasingly popular use cases for QR codes is lost-and-found labels that people attach to their valuable items for others to contact them if one of those items goes missing.

Those labels are currently being used on laptops, keychains, water bottle, luggage, and even pets.

Lost-and-found QR codes for headphones, laptops, passports, keychains, wallets, water bottles, and luggage

However, many scams and fraudulent activities linked to QR codes made people more cautious about scanning them and interacting with them.

And lost-and-found QR code labels have their own risks: A typical “contact me” QR code reveals the contact information of the owner when it is scanned, and reveals the contact information of the finder when they call or text the owner.

That’s why we made it our top priority at PingTag to ensure the privacy and anonymity of both owners and finders by providing them with QR codes that allow them to communicate without revealing their contact information to each other.

And while we initially focused on protecting the identity and contact information of the owner, we found that privacy played an important role for finders in deciding whether or not to contact the owner to return a lost item.

Over the past few months, we were contacted by several users whose expensive items were lost and returned to them thanks to the PingTag labels on them. And in every single case, PingTag’s anonymous messaging feature was used by finders to contact the owners, even when those owners decided to share their contact information on the item’s QR code page when they realized that the item was lost.

For instance, when Liam lost a pair of $500 Gucci sunglasses at the bottom of the Truckee River, he received an SMS alert a week later saying that someone scanned the QR code on them in Los Angeles. He then went and modified the public page for that QR code to share with the finder where, when and how he lost the glasses, and added his name and phone number on that page. Chris, the law enforcement officer who found Liam’s glasses during a weekend river cleanup dive, still opted to contact Liam using PingTag’s private messaging, and shipped him the glasses later that week.

Anonymous communication using PingTag lost-and-found QR code

When we reached out to Chris to thank him for his honesty and good will, he said that when he scanned the QR code and saw a stranger’s phone number, he was hesitant to dial it and reveal his own number in the process. But when he saw the anonymous messaging button on the page, he contacted Liam through it because he felt safe that his identity and contact information will remain private.

Chris then shared with us a photo of hundreds of sunglasses, phones and Go Pro’s that he retrieved over the past several years during his cleanup dives. The only one he was able to return to its owner was the one that had a PingTag QR code label.

Lost glasses that were found by Chris during his cleanup dives of various rivers and lakes in California

In a different story, when Rodrigo lost his new AirPods case, he received a text message within 48 hours through the PingTag sticker that he had on that case, and met with the finder to get it back. The finder also used the private chat feature on the AirPods’s QR code page to communicate with Rodrigo.

AirPods case with PingTat lost-and-found QR code sticker

Those stories clearly illustrate that privacy isn’t just important to protect the owner’s identity and contact information, but is equally important for anyone who finds a lost item to protect their information as well.

How do private lost-and-found QR codes work?

PingTag private messaging forwards messages between a web chat interface that can be opened from each QR code’s landing page, and the phone number of the owner of that item.

The owner receives those messages as text messages, replies directly via SMS, and those replies will instantly show on the same page that the finder opened when the QR code was scanned.

No app downloads or installation is required.

The finder uses PingTag’s web interface to chat with the owner
The owner receives message alerts and replies anonymously via SMS

And if the finder needs to close the web page, they can continue to communicate anonymously with the owner via SMS by verifying their phone number with a one-time password.

PingTag will forward messages between both phones without revealing their numbers to each other.

Furthermore, the owner can assign multiple contacts to any QR code label, and each of them will receive messages from the finder forwarded privately via PingTag, and can any of them can reply anonymously via SMS

Beyond lost-and-found

One of our core design philosophies for PingTag is that the user experience should be much greater than the sum of the product’s features, and we develop our product by writing stories that re-imagine the process of a lost person, animal or item being returned home in the safest and most efficient way, and by designing features that will own the key moments in those stories.

Each PingTag QR code creates a unique digital identity to the item it is attached to, with its own unique landing page, and unique phone number that forwards messages between people and the owner(s) of that item.

The lost-and-found stories that we first wrote are only scratching the surface of what PingTag QR codes can and will do.

And we can’t wait to share with the rest of our stories for how PingTag is re-imagining the interaction and communication between physical objects, digital information and people.

In the meantime, you can sign up for a free PingTag account here , print your QR code stickers at home or order beautiful ready-made ones, and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing that there are good people out there who will return your lost items when they have a private and secure way to get in touch with you when they find them.



When you lose a valuable item that has a PingTag on it, people can scan the QR code to contact you to return it back to you. You receive SMS + email alerts, and you reply anonymously via SMS, without revealing your email or phone number to anyone.

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Amir Khella

Entrepreneur, product designer, and consultant. Helped 15 startups design+launch (5 acquired). Founder of Keynotopia and Augmentop. 100K+ customers.