Wireless Payments – Google Gears Up

Reports from Bloomberg say that Google is paying to install thousands of wireless payment terminals in shops across New York and San Francisco.

The terminals, made by Verifone, will allow people to pay for goods and services using NFC – Near Field Communication – technology embedded in a mobile phone or other device.

The number of mobile phones that currently support NFC is limited at the moment but includes Google’s Nexus S and looks set to grow. The problem with NFC to date has been a cart and horse issue; without capable handsets no one would install terminals and without terminals no one would bother with the handsets. By footing the bill for this large trial Google have gone some of the way to helping the concept gain critical mass. The announcement earlier this month that all new Verifone terminals would include NFC also looks likely to help ensure wireless payments get off the ground.

NFC is a radio communication standard, Google doesn’t own it and there’s nothing to stop others making use of the terminals or releasing handsets that incorporate the technology.

So what’s in this for Google?

The likelihood is that Google are planning to roll out their Google Checkout service to transactions outside the internet. This would give Google a little slice of any transactions made in a similar way to credit card companies. At present most people continue to use cash for small payments, but NFC could change this and Google seem determined to be at the forefront.

With the massive growth that Android has seen, Google already has a device in many people’s pockets so rolling out a payment system – perhaps as an Android app or even an ingtegral part of Android – would give them a big head start.

It remains to be seen whether or not people actually want wireless payments, making small payments without loose change by just bumping your phone on the side of the till sounds cool, but people will need to place a lot of trust in the security behind the technology before they let go of their wallets.

The more conspiracy minded will probably froth at the mouth about “the Devil’s mark” but there will be implications to letting Google see what you buy, when and where.

Google is in the ad industry, it already uses your browsing history to serve you ads it thinks are relevant, if you use Gmail then the ads you see are influenced by the contents of your emails and ads are targeted to your location. Given that Google already uses this information to figure out what ads you are most likely to respond to then it’s no stretch to imagine them using information about what you buy to do the same.

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