Google’s Hands Free app lets you keep your phone in the pocket at the cashier

In San Jose this weekend? Grab a free McDonald's meal if you 'pay with Google'

It has been more than a year since Google unveiled Hands Free, a mobile-payment service that lets you leave your phone in your pocket. The search giant made the service available for iOS and Android devices in March, and now it’s offering free meals for people who use it at participating McDonald’s in San Jose.

Hands Free can be a little confusing, considering that the company has been pushing Android Pay for the past year. 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 need 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 first 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, and specifically 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.

From Friday through Sunday, beginning on July 15, you’ll be able to score a free meal at one of 47 McDonald’s locations in San Jose by using Hands Free. All you have to do, once you have the app installed, is walk up to the register and make an order, then say, “I’ll pay with Google.” You’ll just have to confirm the payment, and that’s it, you’re order is complete. To find out which McDonald’s are participating, take a look at the Hands Free app.

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. This 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 firm says images and data from the in-store camera are deleted immediately, if that provides some relief, and can’t be accessed by the store or 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. Both PayPal and Square have attempted to implement similar technology as payment solutions, but neither really worked out. Perhaps with contactless payments growing, and with Google at the helm, Hands Free could succeed where its competitors have not.

Updated on 07-12-2016 by Julian Chokkattu: Added in information about a deal with participating McDonald’s.

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