Google launches 'Hands Free' mobile payment experiment for Android and iPhone

Google is now experimenting with a new mobile payment system that would wirelessly detect your phone's presence and let you complete a purchase with just your initials and a photo.

Image: iStockphoto/piyaset

Mobile payment systems like Apple Pay and Android Pay have been making waves in the commerce world for their purported simplification of the buying process. Now, Google is testing a new system where users won't even need to pull their phone out of their pocket to make a purchase.

On Wednesday, Google announced in a Google Commerce Blog Post that it was rolling out a pilot program of an app called Hands Free, which allows users to make purchases from their smartphone without performing any physical actions with the phone itself.

SEE: Mobile device computing policy template (Tech Pro Research)

According to the blog post, "Hands Free uses Bluetooth low energy, Wi-Fi, and location services on your phone to detect whether you're near a participating store." Then, when you approach the counter and are ready to pay, you simply tell the salesperson "I'll pay with Google." The cashier will need your initials to complete the transaction, and you will be matched against a profile picture that you add to the app.

In some stores, though, Google is also experimenting with solely using visual identification to complete the purchase. In-store cameras take your picture and the software matches it against your profile photo to confirm your identity. The post also noted that "All images captured by the Hands Free camera are deleted immediately."

For security, Hands Free doesn't share your full card information with the store at which you use it. It also sends your phone a notification whenever a purchase is completed. No images or data used in the process are ever sent to the Google servers. The Hands Free website also mentioned that users will be alerted to "unusual activity."

SEE: Pro tip: Set up Android Pay on your mobile device (TechRepublic)

As mentioned, the program is a pilot, but Google has opened it up to users in the South Bay area of San Francisco. Users can find Hands Free on the Android and iOS app stores, and they'll be able to use it at a few McDonald's, Papa John's, and local restaurants in the region to start. Hands Free works on Android Jelly Bean 4.2 and newer, and iPhone 4S and newer.

The Hands Free website said that Hands Free is a separate payment app and it is not related to Android Pay. So, it will require you to set up a new account to use it. If you're willing to test it out, Google will give you up to $5 off your purchasing using Hands Free.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Google launched a pilot of a new app called Hands Free that lets users pay for purchases through their smartphone without getting it out of their pocket. It is currently only available in the South Bay region of San Francisco.
  2. Hands Free is a separate app, not tied to Android Pay, so Google could be building out the app as a general tool to market to all smartphone users.
  3. The app works with Android Jelly Bean 4.2 and newer and iPhone 4S and newer, and Google is willing to credit pilot users up to $5 on their first purchase for using it.

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Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.

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