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Retail group MCX says it's not telling merchants to block Apple Pay

The Walmart-led group prepping a rival mobile-payments system finally speaks out after coming under fire for merchant actions. Plus: It warns of a hack.

CurrentC, a rival of Google Wallet and Apple Pay, is under fire for the actions of its supporters. Merchant Customer Exchange

Quiet since the weekend, retail group Merchant Customer Exchange published a blog post on Wednesday defending CurrentC, its mobile-payments service meant to rival the likes of Google Wallet and Apple Pay.

MCX, a consortium of retailers led by Walmart that has developed its own mobile-payments system, suffered a black eye last week when two of its merchants, the Rite Aid and CVS drugstore chains, blocked Apple Pay by disabling NFC, or near field communication, terminals.

The group said it did not encourage member merchants to disable readers, which let users with an NFC digital wallet in their smartphone or other mobile device tap the gadget against a terminal to pay for items. It also said it won't issue fines to retailers if they choose to leave MCX.

"MCX merchants make their own decisions about what solutions they want to bring to their customers; the choice is theirs," reads the blog post. "Back when the MCX merchants first got together, it was in response to a market that lacked a viable mobile wallet that would benefit both consumers and retailers. Today, we believe that need still exists, and our working group is getting ready to reveal a solution that is different from other mobile-payment options in many important ways."

MCX plans to launch CurrentC nationwide next year, but for now it's still testing the product, which has received backlash from consumers in the form of negative comments on the iTunes page for the CurrentC iOS app. The group is another player entering the mobile-payments industry, which received a jump start last week with the arrival of Apple Pay. Apple reported that it received 1 million activations within the first 72 hours of the service going live. Many other companies have tried to tackle mobile payments in the past, with services that include Google Wallet, Softcard and PayPal, but it's been hard to convince merchants and consumers to sign on.

Though CurrentC now uses QR codes instead of NFC, Merchant Customer Exchange said it will also add Bluetooth, another type of short-range communication technology, and "many more" technologies in the future. It also hopes to add credit cards. Currently, users have to link CurrentC to their bank accounts or gift cards. In a press conference Wednesday afternoon, MCX CEO Dekkers Davidson said it has "made arrangements" with two financial institutions, but did not give a timeline on when it could make credit cards an option.

"There will be more. Over time we expect all cards will be welcome at CurrentC," he said.

There are other hurdles for CurrentC. MCX acknowledged a cyberattack on its system. The group sent a notice to its test users Wednesday, alerting them that some of their email addresses may have been stolen by hackers. It warned users not to share sensitive information through email, even if the request seems to be from MCX.

The blog post about CurrentC doesn't go into specifics to quell concerns over storing information in the cloud -- including Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers used to identify users -- except to say that "removing this sensitive information from the mobile device significantly lowers the risk of it being inappropriately disclosed in a case that the mobile device is hacked, stolen or otherwise compromised."

During the press call, reporters asked several times for details on MCX's security measures, but Davidson declined to comment, citing competitive advantages: "I'm sure our competitors would like to know that."

When asked if merchants have left MCX following the scuffle around Apple Pay, he also declined to comment.

"I'm not going to comment on the choices that merchants have made or not made," he said. "They are free to make their own choices."

Update, 2:03 p.m. PT: Added comments from MCX press call.