Google Pony Express: Part of the big, digital cash grab

25 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Google Pony Express will let you pay bills in Gmail.

Google is working on a bill payment system, called Pony Express, that would save you from having to visit a utility or service’s website, let alone make the treacherous trek all the way to your physical mailbox. Whether it’s on my phone, in my watch or on the desktop, big name tech and social media companies are angling to get between your wallet and everyone else holding their hands out. Re/code has viewed documents describing a new service dubbed “Pony Express” that would allow users to link up their electricity, phone and other utility bills to their Gmail account. Microsoft brought out an integrated set of Azure-based services on Tuesday that are meant to ease the process of developing applications that run in the cloud.

But Google would presumably tout its ability to pull all of a user’s bills together into one convenient folder and set up a single, simple method for paying them. In the trial, servers that deliver cloud computing services will simultaneously throw off enough heat to potentially save each household €400 on their annual heating bill. The document also showed the ability to share a bill with other Gmail users — say, a spouse or roommate — and a way to capture an image of the bill, which could be used for actions like filing expense reports. There’s more to it than that, obviously, all sorts of authentication between you and the banks and you and the companies you’re paying, but the idea, which may or may not happen later this year, makes a lot of sense. Cloud company Nerdalize pays for the electricity, but because it doesn’t have to deal with the space and cooling costs of a data center, it can sell its services for 30 to 55 percent less than more conventional cloud-providers.

Gmail could organize all your bill payments and receipts of payments received into folders (or labels) so you can stop organizing then into folders on your computer. However, many utilities already offer online payment systems, so it’s not clear whether people would adopt a Google version of online billing en masse. The Federal Trade Commission is creating an Office of Technology Research and Investigation to keep an eye on the growing privacy and security implications of technology, in particular connected cars, smart homes, new payment methods, big data and the Internet of Things.

And it’s also, hearteningly, targeting what it calls “algorithmic transparency,” so tech companies that shrug, disclaim responsibility and say “it’s all in the algorithm” are on notice that the watchdog may ask to take a closer look into their black boxes. A coalition of tech heavyweights including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter are pressing for speedier reform of the National Security Agency’s practice of bulk collection of phone records, The Washington Post reports. The technology giant is reportedly working on Android Pay, a mobile payments system that would expand upon its existing Google Wallet service and compete with the rapidly emerging Apple Pay system. In a letter going to the White House on Wednesday, the companies are demanding greater transparency and want the records to stay with telecommunications companies, a provision of reform legislation that stalled in the Senate last year. Android Pay, which is expected to debut in May, would let companies add a tap-to-pay option at their retail locations or a button on their apps that would let users pay for merchandise with a single touch.

Then Apple came along with some of the very same ideas, but with a better blend of easy-to-use security and NFC-enabled mobile payments, and the land rush was on again. Almost half of all Android devices are vulnerable to an attack that could replace a legitimate app with malicious software that can collect sensitive data from a phone. While Google, Samsung and Amazon have released patches for their devices, 49.5 percent of Android users remain vulnerable to a malicious application installed using the vulnerability, which would have full access to a device, including data such as usernames and passwords.

The Wall Street Journal says that in her five years as finance chief at the investment bank, she strengthened its position; the New York Times calls the hire “one of the most visible examples yet of the talent that has been flowing from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.” The Federal Aviation Administration has loosened restrictions on commercial drone flight: Companies no longer have to obtain airspace clearance for flying approved drones. However, that applies only to about 50 companies that have been granted an exemption from current FAA regulations banning commercial operation of drones.

The new policy lets those companies conduct drone flights as long as the drones weigh less than 55 pounds, don’t go higher than 200 feet, fly during daytime and stay within line of sight of operators. Hewlett-Packard, which relied on Beats for audio technology before the company was acquired by Apple, has found a new partner in sound: Bang & Olufsen. There will be many who will dismiss the idea out of hand — “No snooping Google in my finances!” — But that won’t stop Google from rolling out Pony Express.

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