Should You Google Your Wallet?

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Remember the days when a phone was for calling people? Well, they are long gone now.  First there were phones, then car phones, then mobile phones and now smartphones.  There will probably be a new name for this next generation of phones coming out which seems to do anything you can imagine… Superphones perhaps?

Now, one of the necessities the smartphone has taken on to replace is the wallet.

A smartphone has already challenged the necessity of phones, computers, camcorders, cameras and GPS devices, so why not a wallet too? That seemed to be the question Google asked itself and came up with Google Wallet.  Google Wallet is a mobile payment system using NFC technology.  NFC stands for Near Field Communication and this technology allows information to be transferred between devices simply by being within proximity of each other.  Therefore, if your banking information was stored on your smartphone you could transfer that information to a point of sale device just by putting your smartphone close enough to it. The process is not that much different than a speed pass at the gas pump or even swiping a card at the drive thru. The idea of money being able to be spent (and actually stored) within your phone is confusing, if not downright scary, but should it be?

First, let’s look at the positive aspects of the Google Wallet:

  • It is convenient:  Instead of lugging around ten different plastic cards you would have only a phone to carry. No digging in your purse for that department card you hardly use or having so many cards you don’t even know when you have lost one until quite some time later.
  • It can save money: Google has come up with what they call “Single Tap”.  This would make it so that all coupons and rewards that are applicable to the purchase would be used at the time of purchase.

Now, for the negative aspects of this new technology:

  • Limited availability: Currently, there is only one phone that comes with the technology to use Google Wallet and that phone is only available from one carrier. On the financial end, only MasterCard has teamed up to roll out the new technology.  Therefore you must either have a Citi-Mastercard or get a pre-paid Google card. If you have these prerequisite items you can use Google Wallet right now at many Pay Pass Merchants.  And again, the retailer must have the Pay Pass technology in order for you to pay with your Google Wallet.
  • Safety: There have been fears of security issues with NFC technology.  Many have wondered how easy it would be to read the information being produced while using NFC technology in a smartphone.  Well, Google has designed the Samsung Nexus S 4G (the only phone currently supporting the application) so that banking information is stored in a separate part of the phone and can only be transmitted when this chip is activated by a pin and during this short period of time the smartphone must be within a certain distance of the reading device. So, that clears up the fear of your information being broadcast to the entire world every time you make purchases, but what about if your phone is hacked? Hackers are moving their targets to mobile devices, so how is your Google Wallet going to be protected if your smartphone is hacked? Google has stated that even if a user were to download malware to a phone which would give hackers access to the phones entire Operating System, the chip which holds the financial information for Google Wallet transactions would remain safe.  They even physically separated the hardware of the chip and the phone’s operating system.  But, with hackers being as ambitious as they are these days, we have to wonder how long it will be until they figure out how to surpass these protections.
  • Tracking: In the age of the Internet, information is valuable.  Where consumers frequent and how much they spend translates into dollars and cents to companies who can sell this information to companies to target those consumers.  Google has already been in the hot seat with the public for the information they gather from tracking users, so this would be one more way for that information to be gathered.

There are more benefits and problems with the Google Wallet as you dig deeper into both the technology and sociological aspects, but the above points show what the argument about Google Wallet boils down to.  It is the same issue surrounding almost all of the incredible new technology that is coming out right now.  How much security are consumers willing to sacrifice for convenience?

 

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.