Google Wallet adds Visa, Discover support, along with important safety feature

Major upgrade sees NFC payment system gain flexibility, security

Along with support for three major credit cards, Google Wallet has gotten a couple of important security upgrades with its latest release, the company announced today.

Until today's release, only MasterCard would work with the NFC payment system, leaving Visa and Discover cardholders with no way to use it. The phone-based "touch-to-pay" application should now work with all three.

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The first new safety feature allows users to remotely disable Google Wallet functionality on their phones if lost or stolen, helping to minimize the losses and ensure that accounts remain safe.

The second and more comprehensive security upgrade changes the way Google Wallet handles payment card information. Instead of being stored on a user's smartphone, all card numbers are now encrypted and kept on Google's own secure servers.

"When you pay in-store, Google actually pays the merchant, and then processes the transaction with your selected credit or debit card. So neither the merchant nor the Android operating system ever gets your real payment card information," the company says on its new informational site, though it notes that prepaid cards and some Citi MasterCards are still stored locally.

While the upgrades represent a major step forward in usability for Google Wallet, they may not be enough to spur widespread adoption in the U.S. NFC payment is still not accepted by most American retailers, and the technology faces an uncertain future thanks to a general lack of awareness and security concerns, valid or otherwise.

Nevertheless, rumors that the iPhone 5 will support NFC payments could help drive customer demand, pushing the technology into the mainstream.

UPDATE: American Express has since stated publicly that, although negotiations are ongoing, it does not yet officially support Google Wallet. Users can link their Amex cards to the system for the moment, but reports indicate that the credit card issuer can turn that functionality off at will.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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