August 2, 2012, 9:36 AM

Google opens up its wallet to more cards

The mobile wallet app now works with Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards.

Lead Photo

Google works with such retailers as Fandango

Since Google Inc. launched its mobile wallet app in 2011, it has rolled it out to six smartphones from carriers Sprint and Virgin Mobile, as well as the recently released Google Nexus 7 Tablet. It’s also partnered with more than 25 national retailers to have the payment system accepted at more than 200,000 U.S. locations that accept contactless payments.

Now, Google has updated its wallet app so that it can work with any Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover card.

Google Wallet , which before only worked with Citibank-issued MasterCard cards and Google Prepaid cards, says it had to change its technical approach to storing payment cards to be able to accept all types of payment cards. The Google Wallet app now stores payment cards on secure Google servers, instead of in the secure storage area on a consumer’s phone, Google said in a blog post on its Official Android Blog. The updated version of Google Wallet is cloud-based, that is, data are stored on the Internet, Google says. To avoid exposing consumers’ card numbers, only a code that identifies the consumer is stored on the phone.

“A wallet ID (or virtual card number) is stored in the secure storage area of the phone, and this is used to facilitate transactions at the point of sale,” the blog reads. “Google instantly charges your selected credit or debit card.”

Google says this new approach speeds up the integration process for banks so they can add their payment cards to the wallet app quickly.  Banks can apply through Google for free to have the cards they issue a part of the mobile wallet.

To save a card to Google Wallet, users enter the card number into the mobile app, online wallet, or Google Play, Google’s digital marketplace, when making purchases. When consumers shop in stores, they can use Google Wallet to pay with a registered card by tapping their phone to an NFC, or Near Field Communication, terminal at checkout. NFC is a technology that enables devices to wirelessly communicate over short distances. Merchants who wish to accept NFC payments must upgrade their terminals to work with the technology. Shortly after making a payment, consumers will see a transaction record on their phone with the merchant name and dollar amount.

As part of this upgrade Google also enabled consumers to remotely disable their mobile wallet app from their Google Wallet account on the web, a safety precaution in case a phone is lost.

“If you lose your phone, just visit the ‘Devices’ section and select the phone with the mobile wallet you wish to disable,” the post reads. “When you successfully disable your wallet on a device, Google Wallet will not authorize any transactions attempted with that device. If the Google Wallet online service can establish a connection to your device, it will remotely reset your mobile wallet, clearing it of card and transaction data. There is no way you can do that with your leather wallet.”

Google Wallet, which launched in May 2011 as a spinoff of Google Checkout, an online payment service, has been stepping up its efforts to appeal to more consumers in recent months. Last month it added a Save to Wallet feature that allows Google Wallet users to save offers they find online to their wallets and redeem them when they visit stores. Depending on how store checkout is set up, the Google Wallet user can redeem the offer by either showing or scanning the discount on her smartphone screen at the point of sale, or by tapping the phone at an NFC terminal.

Merchants that want to enable the feature can use Google’s new Save to Wallet application to set up the functionality on their web sites. Google says web site owners can add the Save to Google Wallet button by pasting a snippet of JavaScript to their sites.

These new moves show that Google isn’t throwing in the towel on its wallet, which has yet to come close to achieving the success of its main competitor, PayPal, a unit of eBay Inc. Experts say PayPal has had a major advantage in rolling out its payments services across web and mobile because PayPal has long been used as a method of payment by both buyers and sellers on eBay’s marketplace. PayPal says it had 113.2 million active users, those who had used PayPal in the past year, worldwide as of the second quarter of 2012.

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