Smartphone App Foils Would-Be Underage Drinkers

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Back in college — and long before the Internet — we used to have all sorts of tricks to get into bars. Using an older sibling’s ID was one. Computers made it even easier to build a whole cottage industry of fake IDs.

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Technology giveth, and it taketh away. In this case, bar and restaurant owners can now check your ID on the spot with a smartphone. The app is called BarZapp, and it’s made by Intellicheck Mobilisa, of Port Townsend, Wash.. It’s on the iTunes App Store and there will be a version for Android out soon.

The app lets the phone read the two-dimensional bar code on the back of the ID. Nelson Ludlow, CEO of Intellicheck and inventor of the app, told DNews that it doesn’t need to access any state databases, as all the information is right on the card. He noted every state has the bar codes — they’re visible on the back — as well as most Canadian provinces.

The app has a setting that asks the reason for the check, and one for the age. So for instance, a bouncer can set it for “alcohol” and “21″ and it will instantly tell him or her that the person’s birthday makes them a legal drinker — no more mental math. The app also works for store clerks who sell tobacco or anything else that has an age limit.

Reading the bar codes was part of the technical challenge, Ludlow said. The codes are called “PDF 417,” and have been in use for some time. They differ from QR codes and the typical bar codes in stores because they hold more data and the dots are smaller, making them harder to read. On top of that a smart phone will be reading them in low light most of the time.

The app displays the age and name of the person being checked, leaving out the address. Ludlow said that decision was deliberate, because the app does store the name and age. The storage is so that a bar owner can show that they actually looked at someone’s ID and verified how old they were. A bar owner can also check if a person was banned previously, or set up a VIP list. Address information wasn’t necessary and not showing solves some problems. “We didn’t want them sending junk mail.”

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Even if a person doesn’t want to have their ID scanned, BarZapp can still help a bouncer tell if an ID is a fake; it comes with a database of pictures that show what various licenses look like.  Ludlow noted fake IDs are still a big business on college campuses. Except now, like many other products, they’re made abroad.

“You should see some of the IDs that come from China,” he said. Since the app is reading the bar code, a fake license will either return nonsense or the wrong data.

Credit: Intellicheck Mobilisa

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