Google tests cell-phone NFC link to let crooks clean you out

Pushes digital wallets via cellphone despite lack of security

Despite all the talk of how cool it is that you can buy a soda in Norway using only your cell phone, the idea of equipping phones with direct connections to bank accounts and yet another wireless protocol so they can talk to soda machines hasn't really caught on in the U.S.

It might be that it's all too new and European. Or it might be security reports saying security for cell-based "wave and pay" is even less developed than for the cell phones themselves.

Near-field communications (NFC), the ultra-short-distance wireless networking protocol that would link phones and point-of-sale (POS) devices is growing in the U.S., but slowly, mostly in things like wireless key fobs that let you start your Nissan without turning a key.

Among other problems, there are no communication or security standards, which apparently prompted Apple to decide not to include NFC in the next version of the iPhone.

Google may have just changed the game, or at least the pace of development in the U.S. by buying NFC startup Zetawire in December, and launching a pilot POS program with Verifone in New York and San Francisco, according to reports today.

The program would let Android users "wave and pay" with mobile wallets at participating stores, but the banks or financial networks that would make the transactions work haven't been disclosed.

EBay's PayPal and mobile-carrier consortium ISIS both offer limited NFC payment systems that would compete with Google's. ISIS uses Discover Financial Services as a payment processor. PayPal does its own.

Non-Android users can get in on the fun if they're interested (and can find any stores that actually offer it). NFC company Morpho has developed a key fob that attaches to any WiFi device to let you wave and pay, or start your car without the big, clunky keyfob from your dealer.

Of course, it makes your phone bigger and clunkier, but that's the price you pay for the chance to give money to scammers smart enough to convert their RFID card readers to NFC so they can pick up your bank data without having to look over your shoulder at the ATM.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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