I made only a brief mention of CurrentC in a post earlier this week—a post that ultimately turned into a demo of the PayPal app for Android. It turns out that Apple Pay’s main competitor in the United States was the real story. My bad on that!
Today I’ll try to make amends by getting you up to speed. One thing, though: what we’ll be discussing here really only applies to the USA. Android users already know that Google Wallet doesn’t work as a tap and pay solution in Canada; for iOS users, Apple Pay might ultimately suffer the same fate.
What is CurrentC?
Rather than NFC, CurrentC uses QR codes displayed on a cashier’s screen and scanned by the consumer’s phone or vice versa to initiate and verify the transaction. The system is also designed to automatically apply discounts, use loyalty programs, and charge purchases to a variety of payment methods without passing sensitive financial data to the merchant.
It comes from a company called MCX (“Merchant Customer Exchange”), which is actually a consortium of retailers including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, 7-Eleven and some other big brands you might recognize:
But wait, there’s more!
MCX struck a deal with another mobile payment company called Paydiant, bringing drug stores CVS and Rite-Aid into the fold.
The technology-sharing agreement between MCX and Paydiant is likely the reason why Rite-Aid, then CVS, announced that they would be disabling NFC in all in-store payment terminals, thus shutting out both Apple Pay and Google Wallet.
MCX retailers had already gone on record to say that they wouldn’t be supporting Apple Pay. This September 10th article in The Wall Street Journal sits behind a paywall, but here’s the dirt for your reference:
Best Buy Co., for example, installed NFC-enabled scanners in many of its stores but switched them off in 2011 because the cost of supporting the platform was too high, the company spokesman said. The retailer has no plans to change course following Apple’s announcement.
Reed Luhtanen, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s senior director of payments strategy, confirmed consumers won’t be able to buy things at the world’s largest retailer with Apple Pay.
Best Buy and Wal-Mart are instead backing a retailer-owned mobile technology group called Merchant Customer Exchange, which also counts Target Corp. among its members.
In a rare showing of solidarity the reddit communities on r/Android and r/Apple united to boycott the retailers who are disabling NFC on their payment terminals. The effects of this remain to be seen; in the meantime, the CurrentC app itself, which can only be used via an invite code, has been besieged by negative reviews on both Google Play and the iTunes App Store. Here’s a sample, via r/iPhone:
And it gets worse…
Just yesterday Business Insider reported that CurrentC’s parent company MCX had been hacked. As security breaches go this one could have been much worse—only email addresses of CurrentC users had been compromised, not more sensitive information like, say, credit card numbers.
Still, this is pretty bad news for the CurrentC cartel, and perhaps a sign for users that their old-school plastic credit cards aren’t going to be obsolete anytime soon.