Rhodri Marsden: Google Wallet is another swipe at our privacy

Cyberclinic

I was recently having one of those protracted, languid conversations in the pub with a friend when he said, wistfully: "I really like money." I pointed out that this wasn't particularly unusual and he clarified what he meant. "No, actual money. Notes and coins. Just look at them." He got a £20 note out of his wallet and we sat there, paying it more attention that we normally would. "It's a beautiful thing," he said. "I'll be sad when cash finally disappears. I see people paying for a packet of crisps using a debit card and it's incredibly depressing."

We're certainly learning to shrug off mistrust of modern payment systems; while many of us have elderly relatives who don't even feel comfortable using ATMs, younger generations have no problem with slinging money around the web on a daily basis. But the new frontier is the mobile-phone payment. Your phone becomes your wallet; you swipe it past a terminal, your account is debited, you saunter gaily out of the store carrying your abdominal exerciser – or whatever. Easy. And futurologists predict that this will engulf us swiftly; the majority of us will have switched to these systems by 2015.

Such payment methods have been knocking around in Japan for a while, but it was last week's announcement of the Google Wallet that sparked a discussion of their pros and cons. Google describes the new service as "tomorrow's best shopping experience"; it rolls up payments with coupons, discounts and loyalty points into a single phone app, working in tandem with a near-field communication (NFC) chip within the phone that enables the transaction swipe. Beep. Due to be trialled this summer in a small number of locations in the United States using one specific phone (the Nexus S), it heralds an era of "frictionless" commercial transactions and there's little doubt among experts that it's more secure than plastic. Google reassures us of its safety by naming the core of the system "The Secure Element" (rather than, say, "The Swipey Thingy").

Skimming is more difficult, as it's "impenetrable" by malware (so they say). Intercepting data is almost impossible (a criminal would need to be within 4cm of the phone to even stand a chance); it's locked down by a PIN and studies show that we tend to take more care over the whereabouts of our phones these days than we do cash or cards. If it avoids us having to give out a 16-digit number to strangers, it protects against fraud and is easier to use. Win-win, right?

Well, there's inevitably a trade-off. One online commenter described mobile payments as "the end of anonymised shopping", one company (in this case Google, but it could just as easily be your mobile provider, Apple or whoever else gets in on the act) keeping an ever-expanding list of your purchases. This is certainly valuable marketing data. What's more debatable is whether we gave up our privacy surrounding shopping habits a long time ago. I remember the American film-maker Michael Moore doing a live performance 10 years ago during which he railed passionately against loyalty cards, urging the audience to get them out of their wallets and hurl them onto the stage, which they did in their hundreds. But we use them daily and the operators of these schemes along with credit-rating agencies hold masses of information about the way we use our money.

You could argue that Google Wallet will just formalise the arrangement in a more transparent way. And as we've seen time and time again, we're more than happy to give up privacy for the sake of convenience.

Orange is launching a similar service called Quick Tap and O2 is rumoured to be following in the autumn. Apple is predictably cagey about whether the next iPhone will include an NFC chip, but it's likely. We can just sit back and watch the battleground take shape; Paypal is already suing Google for allegedly "stealing trade secrets" after it employed of two key ex-Paypal workers. Then we'll decide which service to go with; cue a chorus of beeps as we spend and a deafening collection of alert tones to let us know that we're in the red.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Infrastructure / Development Support

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunity to join a...

    Ashdown Group: SQL Developer - Oxfordshire - £40,000

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: BI Developer (Business In...

    Guru Careers: Mac Operator / Artworker

    £Negotiable (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Mac Operator / Artworker to ...

    Guru Careers: Digital Content Designer / Web Designer

    £Negotiable (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Content Designer / W...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore