Paying With Your Phone? You've Got Options – But Are They Any Good?

Oct 31, 2014

Next month marks the one-year anniversary of the notorious Target credit card breach, one of the biggest credit card hacks in history.

And with consumers wary about credit security, companies are rolling out new payment options – like Apple Pay.

Omar Gallaga, tech culture reporter for the Austin-American Statesman, tells Texas Standard the original idea behind mobile pay initiatives was to simplify buying.

“This is NFC, or near-field communication payments,” Gallaga says. “You put your phone up to the cash register and make an instant payment. It makes that transaction anonymous, and it’s meant to make buying stuff easier.”

Although Apple Pay has been relatively well-received by consumers since the release of the iPhone 6, the company’s new system is not being accepted at many large retailers, including CVS, Hobby Lobby and Walmart.

“It’s all about money,” Gallaga says. “They do not want Apple to have control over that cash register on the transaction fees. They don’t want Apple to have control of that customer data. They want that for themselves.”

Enter Merchant Customer Exchange, whose mobile payment system CurrentC seeks to dethrone Apple Pay. Because they charge less for their services, the company has received support from the same retailers that spurned Apple. But CurrentC has drawbacks of its own.

“From what we hear about it so far, it sounds like it’s going to be a much clunkier, harder-to-use system,” Gallaga says. “It’s going to require you to give up a lot more information on the front side.” He notes the e-mail accounts of come CurrentC pilot users were hacked this week – and the app hasn't even launched yet.

The ultimate win for consumers, Gallaga says, would be for a singular mobile pay option to stand out above the rest.

“I think for consumers, you don’t want to have to put your credit card into four or five different things,” Gallaga says. “You want one thing that’s going to work everywhere – and that may take awhile.”

Texas Standard intern Trace Levos also contributed to this post.