Google Wallet: Making smartphones smarter?

Posted by Olivia Young

“Cash, credit or…smartphone?”

Get ready, fellow consumers: we might start hearing this question sooner than we think. Yesterday, Google added yet another product to its growing techno-anthology: meet Google Wallet, a program for smartphones that employs RFID technology to replace your plastic.

This iPhone 4G can use RFID technology to read a London transit card. Photo Credit: Alexander Baxevanis.

With a simple wave of your phone past a MasterCard PayPass symbol, your credit card is automatically charged for your purchase – no more credit cards, no more bulky wallets. (Watch a Wallet tutorial here.)

Google Wallet is under limited release, only available on Sprint’s Nexus S 4G phone by Google, but service will eventually extend to more smartphones and carriers. The program currently supports Citi MasterCard and Google prepaid cards. In true Google fashion, the company also plans to extend the Wallet to other credit card companies in the near future.

More than a diet for your packed wallet, Google’s newest project boasts of SingleTap, a feature that lets you pay, redeem offers and earn loyalty credit with – you guessed it – one tap. Google Wallet also syncs automatically with your Google Offers, eliminating the need to hunt for coupons in your purse.

Of course, the underlying question surrounding Google Wallet regards its security, and the Wallet isn’t the first product to allow for wave-and-go technology in smartphones. Of course, Google has covered all the standard bases, including the Wallet’s mysterious “Secure Element:”

Think of the Secure Element as a separate computer, capable of running programs and storing data…the chip is designed to only allow trusted programs on the Secure Element itself to access the payment credentials stored therein, (Google.com).

But is Google Wallet really secure?

RFID technology is nothing new: it’s been adapted to read cards, like the photo above, and used to make purchases via smartphone.  Google maintains that Wallet users are doubly protected because traditional wallets can be stolen, easily opened and used.   The Wallet, on the other hand, requires an unlock code and features its “Secure Element.”

Even so, I’m wary of the Wallet.

What if you lose your phone, either through theft or mishap? When someone steals your credit card, you can, at least, immediately dial your credit card company from your cell. How will you report your stolen credit card if your credit card is your phone?

Maybe I’m being overly sensible; it wouldn’t be the first time. But there’s something unsettling about my phone and wallet rolled up into one – extremely valuable – device.

So, what do you think about Google Wallet? Is this the next logical move for the devices that already do so much for us, or is it a step back in personal security?

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9 responses to “Google Wallet: Making smartphones smarter?

  1. I read an article about this a few days ago! I find it unsettling, as you do. Our phones already do so much and are, as you said, so valuable on their own. I understand that the makers of Google Wallet believe they’ve covered their bases with security, but cellphones and credit cards are two things that a lot of people would try their hardest to get to. If those two items are molded into one, how much easier are we making it for thieves and hackers? And what happens when you’re at a restaurant, you don’t have any payment method except Google Wallet and your phone dies? You’re stuck washing dishes, that’s what. Not only can phones run out of battery, they can also randomly decide not to work. I know phones have come a long way, but I don’t think I’m ready to store absolutely everything on them yet.

  2. Emily - Drake University

    I had heard about something like this in the works but didn’t know it was being used yet. I think it’s really cool that we have technology that can do this. It sounds like a good idea – combining the two things you always bring with you into one, but I can’t see myself using it. I agree with Olivia that having that one extremely valuable device would scare me. I’d always be worried about losing it or my phone dying or it just not working, like you said.

    However, when paying for things online first became possible, I’m sure people reacted the same way. They were nervous because they didn’t understand how it worked and saw something going wrong. I can see this being adapted and becoming the norm in the future, but right now I’m still apprehensive.

  3. Katie, I feel the same way about having a hyper-valuable phone equipped with Google Wallet. It’s crazy that we don’t hear about a lot of smartphone theft as it is…I wonder if that will change as we move toward using our phone as credit cards?

    I didn’t even think about the phone dying; that adds another dilemma. The solution is to carry cash or your physical credit card as backup, but then that eliminates the need to have Google Wallet at all. (I guess we all need solar powered battery chargers now.)

    Emily, you’re completely right about online shopping. I don’t remember how people reacted to it, but I can only imagine! I’m not going to be the first to use the Wallet, but we’ll have to wait and see how it holds up in user reviews.

  4. This scares me, for sure. Pretty soon, we’re going to be carrying EVERYTHING valuable in one “easy” device and that just doesn’t make sense to me, plain and simple. I already know of more than a few computers crashing and those people losing everything on them. It kills, and there’s no way to get it back. I can’t imagine how many problems this would cause if your phone suddenly crashed. Not to mention how much more apt you would would to spend more money! Or maybe that’s just me, but when I decide to go shopping one day, I withdraw the amount of money I’m willing to spend and that is all I take with me, I don’t even take my plastic. I can just imagine falling into temptation if I had money on my phone. Now I feel like I’m just rambling, but I think this is one of the scariest gadget ideas I’ve heard of….

  5. I can see how it would be convenient, but I don’t think I’d ever use the Wallet technology. I’m with you guys–I’m too wary to have all that information stored in one place! It’s so easy to lose your phone. If you have all your credit card information on there, you’d lose your identity, too. I think Google’s taking things too far with this one.

  6. Kylie, your point about phones crashing – and other technical difficulties – is a valid one: my lovely Droid has frozen multiple times, and I have no idea what I’d do if I were relying on my phone to pay a restaurant bill or purchase some shoes. How frustrating.

    I’m interested in seeing what the rest of the world thinks as the Wallet gets more publicity! I’ll keep you all posted when I find something out. Maybe the greater population is as hesitant as we are.

  7. If the scanner can access your credit card information, what other information can it obtain in the process (unknown to you)? This makes me think of the credit card scams we hear of now. An extra card reader strip placed on the gas pump credit card slot. Hackers stealing hundreds of credit card numbers from a retail store with one swipe.
    In my opinion we need to be more cautious with our possessions instead of making everything “easier.”

  8. I agree with all of these statements. If we start using electronic wallets, what’s next? Somehow, I feel that this technology is unnecessary. I’m one of those people who is skeptical about technology when it comes to my private information. There are too many problems with this electronic wallet. The cons outweigh the pros in my mind.

  9. I think I’m going to keep my phone and credit cards separate, thanks Google. Although I accidentally ran to the grocery store without my wallet (or credit cards or my driver’s license) and I found myself thinking “Hmm, Google Wallet would be useful right now.” I thought that was ironic.

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