Ordering fast food by mobile app is the new drive-through

Soon, the next time you want to Live Más you might be ordering your Doritos Locos Tacos from your smartphone. Taco Bell is preparing to roll out a mobile app just for that purpose, according to Nation's Restaurant News. The app, reportedly been in development for two and a half years, was recently used in a controlled beta test in five units in Orange County, Calif.

Food isn't a new frontier for mobile ordering or payments. Fellow Yum! Brands subsidiary Pizza Hut launched an app in 2009. So did Chipotle -- and it was so popular when first launched that it had to be taken offline because its servers became overloaded. And general online ordering has been around much longer. It's even been integrated into online gaming -- remember when there was a pizza command in Everquest 2?

And there's more on the way: McDonald's and Chick-Fil-a are both testing their own mobile ordering and payment apps. But with mobile technology, ordering can be both more sophisticated and potentially more dangerous.

Taco Bell's app reportedly includes a feature that uses your phone's GPS to tell how close you are to the pick up location and when the restaurant should start cooking. This potentially is a really handy feature that helps the restaurant manage their time and ensure that the customer gets a freshly heated meal.

But it also means that by using the app, customers are trusting Taco Bell with their location data -- which can be pretty revealing. And revelations from documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and countless investigative stories show that mobile information doesn't always stay with the people you think -- whether it's being sold to third parties, snooped on by hackers or intercepted by spy agencies.

And there have already been rumblings over the security of some food-related mobile apps. Last month, a theoretical vulnerability was discovered in the Starbucks app -- the most-used mobile payment app in the United States. The company assured the public there was no evidence the issue had ever been maliciously exploited, but the ensuing media backlash resulted in the company rushing out an update.

Fast food is a creation of convenience: It's about being able to get a familiar experience almost anywhere without any fuss. Drive-ins and drive-throughs even let chains deliver the experience without forcing customers out of their cars. And with mobile apps, there is even less friction between customers and their meals. But there may be trade-offs between for the ease of the experience down the line.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Hayley Tsukayama · February 13