It has been nearly a year since Google unveiled Hands Free, a mobile payment service that lets you leave your phone in your pocket. It was still in the early prototype stage when it was announced at Google I/O 2015, but the search giant just made it available for iOS and Android devices.
It can be a little confusing, considering that the company has been pushing Android Pay for the past few months. Hands Free is unrelated, however, and utilizes different technology. Rather than requiring NFC to make tap-and-pay purchases, Hands Free uses Bluetooth low energy, Wi-Fi, and location to detect if you’re at a store that supports the service. That way, all you have to do at checkout is … well, nothing.
Apart from saying, “I’ll pay with Google,” or something of the sort, that is. The cashier will confirm your identity using your initials and a photo that you have to add to your profile in the Hands Free app.
Already it’s clear to see that this is by no means a service that will move rapidly throughout the world, let alone the U.S. It’s kind of like Google Fiber in that regard, since Google has to find stores that are interested and make them compatible with its Hands Free service. Right now, you can only use Hands Free in South Bay, California; at McDonald’s, Papa John’s, and a few other local businesses Google hasn’t named. The app names the full list of stores, and will add new merchants to the list as the service expands.
On the Hands Free website, Google says it is running early experiments that allow for visual identification, using an in-store camera to automatically confirm your identity. Which means that Google will have a database of your image and credit card information — which is sure to put a few people off from using the service. Then again, if you’re on Google’s services, the company likely already has that information. The company says images and data from the in-store camera are deleted immediately, if that provides some relief, and it can’t be accessed by the store and isn’t sent or saved to Google’s servers.
In case you’re worried about credit card information as well, Google says the app never shares the full number with the store you pay at, and all the “details are stored securely and shared only with the payment processor.”
This type of payment service isn’t exactly new, though. Both PayPal and Square have attempted to implement similar technology as payment solutions, but they both didn’t really work out. Perhaps with contactless payments growing, and with Google at the helm, Hands Free could succeed where its competitors have not.
If you’ve downloaded the app to try out Google’s new service, you’ll get $5 off your first Hands Free purchase at participating stores.