October 29, 2014 When Using CurrentC, You're the Product

I’ve only used  Pay a few times over the past two weeks, but I already find myself checking for it at every store I step foot into. It’s more convenient than getting into my wallet and swiping a card… and it’s just plain cool.

While the coolness factor will wear off over time, knowing the security measures being taken to ensure my financial/personal details are kept private is a huge win, even more so than the impending EMV roll-out (finally) happening here in the US over the next few years.

All that said, this week’s push-back really had me scratching my head at first. We first heard about Rite-Aid pulling all NFC-based payments from their stores, and CVS quickly follow suit, doing this in favor of a new service called CurrentC.

CurrentC is a new invite-only payment app created members of MCX, which is a group of merchants who are trying to “streamline the customer shopping experience across all major retail verticals.”1

Josh Constine’s article on TechCrunch does a great job describing the basics:

When it’s time for a user to check out, they request to pay with CurrentC. The consumer then unlocks their phone, opens the CurrentC app, opens the code scanner, and scans the QR code shown on the cashier’s screen. In some case, the reverse may happen where the consumer’s CurrentC app displays a payment code and the cashier scans it. If a QR code can’t be generated, a manually entered numeric code may be offered.

I can’t see how unlocking my phone, launching an app, and taking a picture of a QR code could even come close to the level of ease that  Pay, or any other NFC-based payment system, offers.

Rather than sending the customer’s financial data over the air, transactions trigger the transmission of a token placeholder. This is then securely converted by the financial institution to process the ACH payment and charge the user.

CurrentC notes it may share info with your device maker, app store, or developer tool makers. Oddly, it will collect health data. Precise location information is used to verify you’re at the retailer where you’re making a transaction, and if you opt in it can be used for marketing or advertising. CurrentC notes that you can opt in to be able to capture and store photos in the app for a hypothetical visual shopping list or other features down the road.

These quotes tell you all you need to know about MCX’s motives. This decision was made with the merchants’ best interests in mind, not the consumer, they get more personal data about their customers and cut out the transaction fees from the payment processors by using ACH payments. Many people, including myself2, actually prefer credit cards over debit cards/bank transfers. Points, cash-back, and travel credits are big business for banks, and can be beneficial to consumers too, so I don’t expect this to be ironed out any time too soon.

If you’re as interested in this as I am you may want to follow Nick Arnott’s coverage/commentary on iMore and twitter. He’s doing a great job of explaining the implications from both a consumer-facing and technological level.

  1. Read in @marcoarment’s ‘BRANNNNNDS’ voice 

  2. Costco AMEX FTW