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Verizon Wireless' Phones To Feature Loopt's Location Service

Utilizing GPS features on more than 20 Verizon mobile phones, Loopt will be offered at $3.99 a month and is aimed at the youth audience.

Verizon Wireless said today that it will add location services from social mapping provider Loopt to many of its mobile phones. It's a sign that the service that tells users where their friends are located is poised for widespread deployment.

Utilizing GPS features on more than 20 Verizon mobile phones, Loopt will be offered at $3.99 a month and is aimed at the youth audience. The service, developed by 24-year-old Sam Altman, was initially offered to Sprint users last summer.

Loopt users set up their own private network, typically of mutual friends, all of whom can be located on a map on their mobile phone displays. Those locations can be shared with people in a user's address book or on an AIM buddy list, Verizon and Loopt said.

"Location is the redefining element of mobile communication and the consumer experience," said Altman, who is CEO and co-founder of Loopt, in a statement. "Location interoperability and accessibility is the gateway that extends the reach, value, and power of mobile devices for all consumers."

Wireless social mapping networks have been created in recent years, and Loopt has been quickest to market in a big way. MIT's campus-wide iFind service was announced in December 2006 and is used by most of the university's 20,000-member community. The MIT service is device-centric, operating primarily over the university's massive networks of Wi-Fi access points, and like the Loopt effort has security and privacy features built in.

Carlo Ratti, director of MIT's SENSEable City Laboratory, has noted that the social networking feature of iFind was created so friends could keep track of each other and increase serendipitous connections. "Nobody can track your position unless you want them to, and you decide how to exchange information with the outside world," he said.

While the phenomenon of wireless location social networking has generally been viewed as a consumer-oriented feature to stay in touch with friends, the MIT officials have said the approach eventually can have public safety and business usage, too.

For now at least, the emphasis is likely to remain focused on the "social" part of social networking. In a statement, Ryan Hughes, Verizon's VP of digital media programming, said: "Loopt offers Verizon Wireless customers a fun, unique, and powerful way to connect with friends and share information."

The Loopt service permits users to turn location-sharing features "on or off at any time on a friend-by-friend basis or for all friends at once," Verizon and Loopt said.

The service will be available next month on Verizon phones, including LG's Chocolate, MotoRizr Z6tv, and Verizon Wireless G'zOne Type-S. Verizon noted that some additional charges for downloading, browsing, and texting may apply with the Loopt service.

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