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Sprint to offer Loopt friend-tracking service

Sprint is the first major carrier to offer the Loopt application that allows people to track their buddies.

Sprint Nextel said Tuesday it will use Loopt's "friend finding" technology to let subscribers track their friends.

Loopt, which also offers its location-based service on Boost Mobile, a subsidiary of Sprint, uses Global Positioning System chips in phones to allow subscribers to see where their friends are located.

To address privacy concerns, Loopt subscribers must give other Loopt users permission to track them. Subscribers also can hide from anyone in their "buddy" list at any time.

Loopt has been available on Boost Mobile since last year. And earlier this year the company said it had signed up 100,000 users. Sam Altman, the company's CEO, wouldn't give any updated information about subscribers. The deal with Sprint is the first in which a major carrier has announced it will use the service. Altman said Loopt will offer the service on other carrier networks later this year.

Location-based services are becoming popular. Most major mobile operators already offer a GPS-enabled navigation service that allows people to get real-time driving directions. Sprint uses a mobile-navigation application from TeleNav. The company bundled the TeleNav service for free with data packages that cost more than $20 per month.

Helio, a mobile virtual network operator, also offers a tracking service that is similar to the one offered by Loopt. Other providers, such as Disney Mobile and Verizon Wireless, offer tracking services for parents who want to keep tabs on their kids. Sprint also offers a kid-tracking service.

Location services also can be used to enhance other applications, like search and weather updates. And mobile operators see great revenue potential for leveraging the technology, which originally was put into phones to comply with a Federal Communications Commission requirement to provide enhanced 911 services that automatically provide the location of people who have called 911.