Ericsson tech can track you down

New equipment lets wireless carriers offer a service that automatically e-mails a cell phone user's exact location to friends or relatives. But this type of tech raises privacy concerns.

Ericsson said Monday it has begun offering U.S. wireless carriers its new network equipment that automatically e-mails a cell phone user's exact location to friends or loved ones.

The Swedish company's equipment uses software called Where Are They Now, developed by Israeli wireless software maker LocatioNet. The software lets cell phone users create a list of friends or relatives who have permission to receive location information. Users can choose how frequently the e-mails are sent.

The service is not yet available, as no cell phone carriers have added the equipment to their network yet, Ericsson said. However, the company said it is in talks with major U.S. carriers.

The software was developed following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, said Vipul Sawhney, LocatioNet's vice president of technology. "I was in the Manhattan office at the time of the attacks, and everyone wanted to know where I was," he said. "We thought later on, wouldn't it be nice if this could be done automatically?"

Where Are They Now is just one example of a commercial service inspired by so-called E-911 systems--emergency services now required by the Federal Communications Commission. E-911 systems are supposed to help emergency workers and police locate a person in trouble by calling 911 from a cell phone.

To win back some of costs of building these systems, carriers are looking to create commercial services, such as helping stranded motorists or offering location information for restaurants or services, for example.

AT&T Wireless is the first carrier to launch a service, called "Find Friends." The service allows a cell phone subscriber to know the location of any number of other subscribers, and assists in creating a meeting point.

A lot more of these kinds of services will start appearing, predicted Jonas Petterson, business development manager for Ericsson.

Privacy groups have raised concerns about "geo-tracking," saying that the technology could be a tool for criminals.

"There are some things you don't mind other people knowing, but your location isn't one of them," said Gary Laden, a privacy program director for BBBOnline, a Better Business Bureau subsidiary.

But AT&T Wireless and Ericsson said their services shouldn't raise privacy concerns. Services will only find those cell phone owners who have given their permission to be found, said representatives from the two companies.

Privacy concerns are just one of the potential hurdles for these new kinds of location-based services, analysts say.

Cell phone service providers have been relatively unsuccessful in selling new wireless services--for example, only about 5 percent of all Americans use their cell phones for anything other than voice calls.