Phones

Google Wallet: The Complete FAQ

Security Concerns

Okay, wise guy, what about security? Is this thing actually safe?

Believe it or not, by most measures, it's safer than carrying a physical credit card in your pocket. Google Wallet stores your account info encrypted on a special chip inside your phone. The chip is completely separate from the rest of the phone's hardware and isn't connected to the operating system, either. Google says only authorized programs like the Google Wallet app can access the chip--and if someone tries to hack into it, it'll automatically self-destruct (take that, James Bond!).

I'm still not convinced. What if another program somehow gains access?

Here's what Google says about that:

"Both the Android platform and the Secure Element [chip] are designed to prevent this from happening. Android enforces strict access policies so that malicious applications wouldn't have access to data stored by Google Wallet. Even Google Wallet itself has very limited access to the [chip] and cannot read or write data from its memory. There are multiple levels of protection for data stored on the [chip] and it is protected at the hardware level from snooping or tampering."

[Read Tony Bradley's report: Can You Trust Your Data to Google Wallet?]

If someone else had my phone, then, could they go on a wild shopping spree with my account?

Probably not. First of all, you have to enter a PIN in order to make any payment, so having the phone by itself wouldn't be enough to access your accounts. If you were to lose your phone or somehow get unauthorized charges, it'd work the same way it would with a regular credit card: You'd call your banking company and they'd suspend the account. Any unauthorized charges would be handled the same way they would be if they happened with regular ol' plastic.

According to the crew from GigaOm, Google can also remotely wipe your financial info from your phone if the need arises.

How about that snooping thing? What's to stop someone from using some sort of gizmo to lift my data from my phone when I'm walking around?

Near Field Communications
Near Field Communications
Google says a phone's NFC capability is only activated when its screen is powered on, so a transmission wouldn't be possible when the device is idle in your pocket. On top of that, data can only be transmitted when you enter your PIN. All in all, it'd probably be easier for someone to look at the numbers printed on your plastic card than to get them out of your phone.

Will Google be collecting data on me when I use Google Wallet?

The G-gang promises it won't be playing the role of big brother. Google says it receives no data about purchases and records only the time and type of card used in each transaction. That information is stored locally on the phone, and you can always remove it (along with your account info) anytime you want.

Does Google get any of the money I pay?

Negatory; Google takes no cut from purchases made through its Google Wallet system.

Then what is Google getting out of this?

Good question. For one thing, Google Wallet allows Google to add value into its existing products and services, like Android. Compelling features draw in more users, which is what Google is ultimately after.

Google Wallet also integrates with a variety of other Google services, thanks to a component called Google Offers. Google Offers allows you to find virtual coupons to store on your phone, within the Wallet app, and then use when you check out at businesses.

Notably, you find those offers by using Google's official Offers website--currently being beta tested in a handful of cities--or by clicking on relevant links in other Google products like Maps, Latitude, and search. Everything brings you back to Google, and that's where Google stands to benefit the most.

Tell me more about this Google Offers thing.

Google Offers
Google Offers
Once Google Offers launches for your city, you'll be able to go online and seek out coupons for retailers in your area. It looks like Google will also offer an option to get coupons in your email each day (ouch, Groupon).

When you check out at a store, you'll just show the virtual coupon to the cashier to get the discount or deal. At certain businesses, you'll be able to redeem the coupon wirelessly using the Google Wallet technology. A bunch of stores are already on-board with this, including such places as American Eagle, Bloomingdale's, Jamba Juice, Macy's, Subway, and Walgreens.

I run a business. How can I learn more about Google Wallet and/or Offers from a merchant perspective?

You can contact the Google Wallet gang by emailing wallet-b2b@google.com.

Aren't you getting tired of answering questions about Google Wallet? What is this, question number 70 or something?

Number 263, actually--and yes, now that you mention it, I am a bit bushed.

Well, what should I do if I have more questions?

Direct them to my personal assistant, Clippy. Or just scream loudly; that always seems to work for me.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the author of the Android Power blog. You can find him on Facebook or on Twitter.

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