Consumer Protection

Mobile Payments: Consumer Benefits & New Privacy Concerns

Author(s): Chris Jay Hoofnagle and Jennifer Urban
Year: 2012

Abstract: Payment systems that allow people to pay using their mobile phones are promised to reduce transaction fees, increase convenience, and enhance payment security. New mobile payment systems also are likely to make it easier for businesses to identify consumers, to collect more information about consumers, and to share more information about consumers’ purchases among more businesses. While many studies have reported security concerns as a barrier to adoption of mobile payment technologies, the privacy implications of these technologies have been under examined. To better understand Americans’ attitudes towards privacy in new transaction systems, we commissioned a nationwide, telephonic (wireline and wireless) survey of 1,200 households, focusing upon the ways that mobile payment systems are likely to share information about consumers’ purchases.

We found that Americans overwhelmingly oppose the revelation of contact information (phone number, email address, and home address) to merchants when making purchases with mobile payment systems. Furthermore, an even higher level of opposition exists to systems that track consumers’ movements through their mobile phones.

We explain some advantages of mobile payment systems, some challenges to their adoption in the United States, and then turn to our main finding: Americans overwhelming reject mobile payment systems that track their movements or share identification information with retailers. We then suggest a possible remedy for such information sharing: adapting provisions of California’s Song-Beverly Credit Card Act, which prohibits merchants from requesting personal information at the register when a consumer pays with a credit card, to mobile payments systems. Our survey results suggest that consumers would support limitations on information collection and transfer. Song-Beverly could be adopted to accommodate those who wish to share their transaction data.

Keywords: Mobile payments, m-payments, privacy, location, survey research, consumer protection, identification, tracking