Alexander: Tap-and-pay phones are a fading dream

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2014 - 10:41 AM

Q: If a thief stole a smartphone that makes retail store payments, could he or she make store purchases with no questions asked? (The phone uses the Google Wallet software and a Near-Field Communication, or NFC, radio link.) And is Google pushing Wallet to Android operating system devices without asking the owners?

Robert Raymond, Roseville

 A: Making purchases wouldn’t be that easy if the phone is set up properly. A thief would still need to know your PIN (personal identification number), provided that you’ve set the phone to require re-entering the PIN a certain number of minutes after it was last used. What’s more, changes in the Google Wallet service make it less attractive to phone thieves.

The original Google Wallet service was designed to make purchases in retail stores. A phone equipped with NFC would be tapped on a retailer’s NFC reader. The reader would then use NFC’s short-range radio waves to scan the financial information stored in the phone’s Google Wallet software and complete the transaction. This “tap and pay” service was supposed to replace credit cards.

But it didn’t. Retailers and consumers weren’t interested in upgrading to expensive new NFC equipment, and banks were more focused on computer chip-based credit cards that could either be tapped on an electronic card reader or swiped as usual.

So Google offered a different version of its Wallet service last year. It doesn’t require NFC, and won’t store financial data on the phone. It runs on an ordinary smartphone, stores financial information online and is used primarily for online shopping. (The app also works with NFC phones, but not many retailers have the readers.)

And, yes, Google is pushing the service to consumers, but only if they ask for it. Google Wallet is now available as an app for Google Android smartphones and Apple iPhones. But the security is better. To make an online purchase, you must enter your name, address, birthday and the last four digits of your Social Security number.

 Q: Is there a way that I can download my own CDs to my iPad and iPod without paying the $24.99 fee that iTunes charges?

Linda Sparks, Oak Run, Calif.

 A: Yes. Apple’s $24.99-a-year iTunes Match service is convenient for multiple devices. It scans your computer’s iTunes library for songs you’ve purchased on iTunes or copied from CDs. This establishes that you have the “rights” to those songs. It then matches titles with the ones in the iTunes library and downloads the corresponding iTunes songs to your iPad, iPod or iPhone wirelessly.

But instead of using iTunes Match, you can simply import your CDs to iTunes via a CD or DVD drive, then “sync” your Apple devices to iTunes with a USB cable. For details, watch the video at tinyurl.com/kp6o3ht.

 E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com or write to Tech Q&A, 425 ­Portland Av. S., ­Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.

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