Google's new Hands Free payment app lets you buy stuff with your face

Google's Hands Free pilot program uses your smartphone's location and your face to authorize credit card transactions.


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Google hopes to make in-store smartphone payments even easier with a new app called Hands Free that doesn’t require you to take your phone out of your pocket. The new system is available on Android and iOS devices and is currently being tested in the South Bay area near San Francisco.

Hands Free uses your face and your phone’s location as two identifying factors to ensure it’s you making the payment. Let’s say you wanted to pick-up a (still VR-free) Happy Meal at a participating McDonald’s location.

First you’d tell the cashier that you want to pay with Google. Then the cashier asks for your initials. Presumably, at this point the Hands Free system has a list of all Hands Free-using phones within range of the McDonald’s Hands Free terminal. So when the cashier enters your initials, say M.H., she can see a list of people close by with those initials.

Then it’s up to the cashier to find your face in the system, match it to your face in real life, and then “ring through” the payment. Google is also testing an automated version where a built-in camera matches your face against the photo on file. The company says any photos taken by Hands Free cameras in stores are deleted immediately.

Once the transaction is finished you’ll receive a notification on your phone letting you know the payment went through This can also be used to head off any suspicious activity on your account.

Why this matters: Whether device-based payment systems will ever overtake plastic cards and cash is far from clear. If gadgets are to become our wallets, however, they’ll have to be just as convenient and simple as “swiping the stripe.” Hands Free may be one way to make device-based payments simpler although it does introduce the possibility of human error and social engineering (“I look much younger without my beard”) for unauthorized payments.

Hands Free profiling

Beyond your picture, Hands Free uses a variety of methods to identify your device and its location, including Bluetooth LE, Wi-Fi, and your phone’s location services.

Hands Free is currently available in San Francisco's South Bay area at participating McDonald’s and Papa John’s locations, as well other local restaurants and cafes. There’s a complete list of all participating establishments within the Hands Free app.

Hands Free works with Android devices running version 4.2 (Jelly Bean) or higher, and the iPhone 4S and up. The new pilot program is not a part of Android Pay.

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