Google's new payments app means never having to pull out your wallet
The Hands Free app lets customers pay for items in stores by simply telling the cashier, "I'll pay with Google." But will customers speak up?
Ben Fox RubinFormer senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Google on Wednesday released to the public a new app called Hands Free, which lets people pay for items in stores by simply telling the cashier, "I'll pay with Google."
But don't tell just any local store owner that this one's on Google and then walk out with a Snickers bar. The app, available for Android and Apple phones, is only being piloted in a few locations in the San Francisco area, including some McDonald's and Papa John's restaurants.
Hands Free is just one of many experiments that payments and tech companies are trying out to find ways of getting people to pay for their stuff in new -- and, hopefully, easier -- ways. For the past 40 years, magnetic-stripe cards have been the only significant alternative to paying with cash or check. Now there are all kinds of new ways to pay with your phone, watch, refrigerator or
Consumers, though, have been slow to adopt these new methods, partly because nothing has yet convinced them to move on from paying with plastic. If an app like Hands Free can save them time and remove the hassle of even having to pull out their wallets or dig through their purses, it could have a chance at gaining supporters.
The idea of paying with your voice isn't new. In 2011, payments company Square attempted an app similar to Hands Free, called Square Wallet. It was discontinued in 2014. A problem with Square Wallet, which allowed a person to pay by just saying his or her name to the cashier, was that few retailers joined into the program. That cut down on the app's usefulness.
Hands Free, which is separate from Google's Android Pay mobile payments app, works by tracking your location using Wi-Fi and other sensors in your smartphone to detect whether you're near a participating store. After you say "I'll pay with Google," the cashier confirms your identity by using your initials and the photo you've loaded onto the Hands Free app.
At some stores, Google is also experimenting with an in-store camera to verify your identity automatically based on your Hands Free profile picture. Google said images and data from these cameras are deleted immediately and can't be accessed by the stores.