Manufacturers and retailers all over the world use barcodes to help them identify their products. Despite their worldwide use and acceptance, not a lot of people know how barcodes work exactly, and this have led to numerous speculations and misconceptions.
Let’s look at 4 of the most common misconceptions about barcodes.
1. Barcodes reveal a product’s country of origin. Economic conditions (i.e. unemployment and cheaper overseas contract work) and health concerns (e.g. the H1N1 virus and the melamine scare) have made some people very particular when it comes to where a certain product was actually made. There is nothing really wrong with favoring products made from a certain country but merely looking at the barcode numbers to confirm where it was produced is not possible because the information is not really there, regardless of whether you are looking at a UPC-A or an EAN barcode.
A UPC-A barcode uses the first digit to indicate the numbering system, the next 5 digits to indicate the manufacturer’s code, the succeeding 5 digits for the product code, and the last trailing number as the checking digit.
The EAN barcode in fact uses the first three digits to represent country codes but these only specify the location of the GS1 Member Organization a manufacturer joined, which could be different from the actual site where a product was really made.
2. Barcodes contain pricing information. While barcodes can contain a product’s details, including the price, the ones we commonly see do not if they conform to UPC-A or EAN. Including price in barcodes will cost manufacturers and retailers a lot if they have to reprint them when market prices change.
Prices however are typically saved in a store’s computer database and linked to SKU numbers (Stockeeping Unit). The SKUs are part of an item’s record which includes the product’s name, brand, price, dimensions, and other attributes.
3. Barcodes are no longer popular. No study for barcode usage statistics is currently known. Furthermore, advancements in technology have made the barcode more relevant instead of making it obsolete. Many organizations have started using 2D barcodes either in conjunction with, or totally replacing, linear barcodes in many processes.
4. Barcodes are the “mark of the beast”. This controversial myth has been around for two decades. Back in 1982, Mary Stewart Relfe published a book titled “The New Money System 666” where she alleged that the 3 guard bar parts in a UPC barcode used to help barcode scanners determine the beginning and end of the code and separate the manufacturer code from the item code, represent the number 6. When taken collectively, these digits (666) correspond to the number of the devil as stated in the Bible in Revelations 13:18. From a cursory glance, the two thin barcodes used to mark the beginning, the middle, and the end of the bar sequence does look the same as the bars that denote the number 6.
However, what conspiracy theorists fail to understand is that the spaces between the bars should also be taken into consideration. A “6” in a UPC barcode is designated by a series of alternating black bars and spaces in this exact sequence: 1 black bar unit + 1 white space unit + 1 white bar unit + 4 white bar units. This is not equivalent to the guard bars which consists of 3 (for the start and end markers) and 5 (for the middle marker) bar and space units. Here are a couple of images that best illustrate this:
This shows us that the guard bars definitely DO NOT represent the number 6. As George J. Laurer, the inventor of the UPC barcode says on his website: “There is nothing sinister about this nor does it have anything to do with the Bible's "mark of the beast" (The New Testament, The Revelation, Chapter 13, paragraph 18). It is simply a coincidence like the fact that my first, middle, and last name all have 6 letters. There is no connection with an international money code either.”
Barcodes were created to help businesses improve services, operate more efficiently, and increase revenue. In addition to retail products, barcodes are also being used in shipping, medical, and government applications.
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