Google's Pony Express Will Let Users Pay Bills in Gmail

Google's new Pony Express service, slated for a fourth-quarter debut, will let users receive and pay bills directly from inside their Gmail inboxes.

electronic bill paying

Google's continuing efforts to broaden its revenue streams appear to be taking the company into the bill payment services space.

Google reportedly is planning to launch a new service that will let users receive and pay bills directly from inside their Gmail inboxes. The service, tentatively dubbed Pony Express, is scheduled for launch in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to Re/code, which claims to have obtained a "lengthy document" describing the project.

Re/code said the documents show Google is partnering with companies that print and mail bills out to customers on behalf of utilities, telecom companies, insurance firms and other service providers. It remains unclear if Google is also working directly with the service providers, it said.

To sign up for the services, Gmail users will be required to provide their full name, address and Social Security number to a third party for identity vetting purposes. "Users might also have to provide information such as a full credit card number or telephone service account number to get started, too," Re/code said.

Users who are authenticated will be able to receive and pay their bills from inside their Gmail or new Inbox application. Many Gmail users already receive their bills in Gmail, so one of the things that Google hopes to do with the new service is to give users a way to organize the bills in a separate Pony Express folder inside Gmail, Re/code explained.

Among the features that Google will offer with the new service is one that will allow users to automatically share bills they receive with other Gmail users. The feature is apparently designed for people who might have shared responsibility for a bill, such as roommates. Re/code said.

"With Pony Express, Google could suck in the type of financial data that would allow it to expand into new businesses," Re/code noted. "Credit card bills and payment history would be a gateway into industries such as personal finance or lending."

A Google spokesman declined to comment, saying the company does not respond to rumors and speculations about its business.

Gartner analyst Avivah Litan said Google is in a perfect position to connect billers and bills to consumer payments because of its dominant position in the email space. Google can help billers save considerable money by helping them move from paper to electronic billing, she said. "Google can easily take a small slice of every transaction and make a small fortune on it," Litan said in emailed comments to eWEEK.

The main issue is consumers having to give Google their payment information, such as bank account number and credit card information, she said. "This is a huge security and data privacy concern. Consumers favor convenience over security, so it likely won't slow down adoption of the service but frankly it should," she said.

"It behooves Google to anonymize any payment data they collect from consumers, in much the same way Apple did with Apple Pay. It will be interesting to see what security/privacy features they build in," Litan noted.

If Google does indeed launch Pony Express, or whatever its formal name will be, the service would fit in with the company's continuing efforts to broaden its revenue streams by going after new markets and opportunities. It is a quest that recently has taken Google into markets like the gigabit Internet space, the wireless carrier market, autonomous cars, balloon-powered Internet and other initiatives. The moves have prompted some questions about whether the company is taking its eye off its core ad business, which still generates almost 90 percent of Google's revenues.

But some industry analysts have previously noted that most of Google's new business initiatives are ultimately focused on gathering customer information that will allow it to build detailed, 360-degree views of their customers. The company is less interested in grabbing major market share and disrupting incumbent leaders in new markets than it is on gathering information that can be used to feed its core ad business and enable a host of related services, they have noted.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.