Google Unveils Electronic-Payment Cards for Buses in Kenya

Google is expanding its collection of consumer information in more countries and in more ways, say analysts.

Google has launched an electronic-payment system in Kenya so that bus riders there can pay with a card rather than with cash, which makes it easier for passengers and provides new streams of consumer information for Google.

The payment system, called BebaPay, is being run in partnership with East Africa's largest bank, Equity Bank, according to an April 30 post announcing the program on the Google Africa Blog by Aneto Okonkwo, a Google product manager.

"With BebaPay, you'll never again have to worry about carrying change for the bus, or keeping stacks of bulky tickets and receipts in your bag," wrote Okonkwo. "Instead, people traveling on key Nairobi bus routes such as Riruta, Karen and Jogoo Road will be able to pre-load money onto their BebaPay card, and swipe or tap it on the card reader when boarding a bus to pay for their journey."

The payment cards are available free from major bus stops in Kenya and can be loaded with money at select Equity Banks or using mobile money recharging systems, according to the post. Users can also track their spending on the cards and can receive a free receipt for each transaction. The BebaPay cards include software created by Google and smart cards that use near-field communication (NFC) technology, which allows the payments to take place offline, even when there is no power or network connectivity, according to Okonkwo.

But the bus lines aren't the only market where Google plans to introduce BebaPay in the future in Kenya.

"In time, Equity Bank will roll out BebaPay more widely, beyond the world of transport," wrote Okonkwo. "The free BebaPay app turns any NFC-enabled Android phone into a card reader, which means that shops, traders and small businesses can use BebaPay to accept payments from customers, without needing expensive tills and cash registers."

That's an intriguing proposition, and another way Google is pushing into new markets where it can continue its efforts to collect more and more information about users, according to two IT analysts who spoke with eWEEK.

"They're actually not just an Internet company anymore—they are an information company," said Dan Maycock, a mobile analyst with Slalom Consulting. "Google is all about how to give the world information," but at the same time, the company is also looking to collect valuable new information about users.