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Loopt is a new service available from Sprint Nextel’s Boost Mobile (though the company is working on deals with other carriers), which allows friends to track each other using cellphones. Using GPS-like technology, you’d be able to see where your friends are on a map displayed on your cellphone screen. The service is free for the first thirty days after which it will be a charge of $2.99 per month. Despite skeptics being concerned about security / privacy, Loopt already has 40,000 subscribers. Loopt’s site has a pretty good introduction to how the service works or you can check out the company’s goofy YouTube music video, which highlights the features.
The company’s biggest obstacle might be the creepiness factor. The service is obviously designed for teenagers or twenty-somethings not necessarily questioning privacy when the coolness factor is involved. The site’s FAQ even has the question, “Is it cool to have lots of friends?” with an answer explaining, “While it may be great to have lots of friends in some social networks,
it’s very important that you only share your location with very good
The company reinforces the “only good friends” idea in the FAQ entry that explains the maximum number of friends is 150 (is it just me, or is 150 arbitrarily high if the point is share your location only with your “good friends?” It’s hard for me to think of 10 people I’d consider good enough friends to know where I am located throughout the day, let alone 150!). But I may not be their target demographic since I’m past both the high school and college frat boy days.
And to the credit of the service, you can reject requests from others who want to join your group of friends without them knowing (well, other than the fact that they’ll implicitly know that you rejected them by not being able to locate you using the service). Also, the service is flexible enough to allow you to be “off the map” at any given time for any particular friend or all your friends. You’re in control, and it’s just there to be a cool way to connect with people. But that won’t stop it from being the next way for high school kids to dis each other (“Fine! You’re off my Loopt list!” or whatever).
There’s also a larger concern of how the technology might be implemented in the future. One practical use aside from social networking is using the service when you’re lost (don’t get me wrong, having built-in help when you’re lost is a good thing). But depending on how advertising deals go, we could enter a world of location-based custom advertising. So you might be lost in New York City but your cellphone may pop up an ad telling you there’s a McDonald’s around the corner.
All of the issues I mention above still don’t change the novelty factor of this new service or the fact that there will be practical and helpful uses. And society may just adapt to convenience quickly (like we already did with cellphones in general). But that shouldn’t stop us from thinking through the implications.