Verizon Wireless adds friend-finding service

For $3.99 a month, Verizon subscribers will be able to track their friends using a location service from Loopt.

Friend-finding cell phone service Loopt is now available on some Verizon Wireless phones.

Loopt

Loopt is a service that uses GPS (Global Positioning System) chips in phones to pinpoint a subscriber's location; then users can broadcast that location information to friends or family, who can track them on a tiny map. Subscribers can sign up for alerts to find out when other Loopt friends are near. They're also able to tag photos and send them to friends with location information attached.

The company has been offering the service on some Sprint and Boost Mobile phones for more than a year. The service on Sprint costs $2.99 a month.

Starting in April, Verizon will offer the Loopt service for $3.99 a month. Verizon is offering the service on 20 popular data-enabled phones including the Chocolate by LG, the MotoRizr Z6tv, and the G'zOne Type-S. Customers will be able to get the application through Verizon's Get It Now virtual store.

Location-based services are expected to generate a lot of money for carriers in the future. Already, most major mobile operators are offering some kind of location-based service, such as GPS-enabled navigation or tracking. Helio, a mobile virtual-network operator, offers a tracking service that's similar to the one offered by Loopt. Other carriers, such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and Alltel, offer tracking services for parents who want to keep tabs on their kids.

But location services are also expected to be a big component of mobile social networking. In February, Yahoo announced that people could sign up for "proximity alerts" on its OneConnect service to let them know when friends using the service come within a certain distance of one another. And Loopt has been working with Facebook and MySpace.com to integrate its technology into those mobile Web sites.

So far, friend-finding services have had modest success. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, the service needs to be offered on more phones and on more carrier networks. SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging was a novelty when people could only send messages to people who subscribed to the same carrier. But once they were able to text people on other carrier networks, the service exploded. The same could be true for friend-finding. The deal between Loopt and Verizon, the second-largest operator in the U.S., is a step in that direction. Loopt customers on Sprint's network will be able to track and be tracked by friends on Verizon's network and vice versa.

That said, Loopt and other friend-finding services still must overcome privacy concerns. A lot of people simply aren't comfortable with the idea of their location being broadcast to others.

Loopt says it has the privacy issues licked. Only people who have given permission to have their location broadcast will be tracked. And these users only share location information with their known friends via a private network. The company also says that the location-sharing feature can be turned on and off at any time on a friend-by-friend basis or for all friends.

In a separate announcement from Verizon Wireless, the company said Friday that it has integrated MySpace into its menu on the Mobile Web 2.0 home screen.

This will allow subscribers to click directly into the MySpace Mobile Web site from the menu, eliminating the need for customers to type in a URL in order to access the site. Verizon subscribers will also be able to edit MySpace profiles, view and add friends, post comments and blogs, and send and receive MySpace messages from their mobile phones.

 

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