What if you could find friends when they’re in the same neighborhood, or even one aisle over in the grocery store? Now you can, using one of two services that realize the possibility of sharing your location across your mobile pho

ne connection.   Silicon Valley-based Loopt, for one, has developed a “social-mapping service” that automatically updates and delivers friend location maps to your mobile phone.  Loopt aims to simplify real world interaction between friends and lessen the likelihood of missed connections. GPS-enabled mobile phone users on Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and Boost Mobile can readily “beam” their real-time location to other friends and meet up with those nearby.   Founded in 2005 by Sam Altman (who was then a sophomore at Stanford), Loopt recently received $5 million in funding from New Enterprise Associates and Sequoia (the same firms that financed Google, Yahoo!, PayPal and TiVo). In addition to their mobile phone partnerships, the company has secured an advertising deal with CBS.   Location based services (LBS) combined with social networking is a technology expected to be easily adopted. Companies like Loopt are in the position to become leading players that can harness the new terrain of allowing people to physically connect in real-time. "A year ago, the business models were not in place, the technology was not mature. Now we're understanding that location, that context, is king," said Shiv Bakhshi, an analyst at IDC. Location "will be embedded in all kinds of services you are offered - space and time are two dimensions in which we all work." “Using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology is one way of adding location service to mobile phones and the market for this kind of technology is expected to rapidly grow; ABI Research estimates the number of such phones, at 140 million in 2007, will reach 600 million in 2012” as reported by The Boston Globe. Boston-based mobile applications firm, uLocate Communications, is another company with a friend-finding service, called Buddy Beacon. First introduced to mobile operator Helio in late 2006, Buddy Beacon has since expanded to providers Sprint, Alltel, Metro PCS, and the iPhone. Like Loopt, it is a friend finding network that allows users to connect with their friends, post their location, and update their status across a number of mobile devices.     Also, their service extends to social networking site Facebook. Even if you don’t have a GPS-enabled mobile phone, you can still update your status by “self-reporting your location,” or manually typing in your address which will keep your Buddy Beacon friends informed of where you are. So, what about privacy issues? Some privacy advocates fear cell phones may become a tracking device. Location based providers, however, promise guidelines that will protect subscribers. As China has shown, mobile phones can easily be tapped leaving privacy unprotected. China Mobile Communications Corporation, who is possibly the biggest mobile group in the world, revealed in January that they not only know who their subscribers are, but also where they are. "We can access the information and see where someone is, but we never give this information away ... only if the security authorities ask for it" said the CEO of China Mobile Communications Corporation, Wang Jianzhou as reported by AFP. The LBS technology has a lot of potential to grow and succeed, especially in a world where people are constantly on the move; however, there also exists the possibility of your privacy becoming compromised. As with any social technology, be smart about how much personal information you’re revealing and follow all the guidelines available to protect your information. By Kathleen Clark   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at editorial@atelier-us.com