Loopt, the location-based social networking application for the iPhone and other smartphones (and iPod touch users), is announcing that they will now be offering a GPS for iPhone (and assuming other phones) through AT&T.  The Always-On Location Service, which won’t run on the iPhone, will constantly update Loopt of your location and will eventually cost $3.99/month (currently 3 month free trial) and be billed by AT&T on your phone bill rather than through iTunes or the App Store.

This is an interesting development for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it bypasses the iPhone entirely.  It doesn’t use GPS, it uses AT&T’s cell location data to triangulate your location (like A-GPS).  With your permission (and $4/month) AT&T is sending your constant whereabouts to Loopt.   The service is also operating through AT&T and their billing system (which is more tedious to navigate) rather than Apple’s iTunes ecosystem.  This is the same tracking information that police would request if you had committed a crime and were being chased. 

We’re a bit leary of this whole system.  While AT&T can already track your location without your say, a service that does this for another business could be another level of privacy concerns.  Also, the $4/month charge is questionable because it is something the iPhone could do on its own.  An extra monthly charge to let an application run in the background seems unfair.

Plus, why does Loopt get to use this service while Google Latitude and other social Networking applications (FourSquare?) are closed out?  An always-on locations service should be an API that any developer should have access to.

From Loopt:

 

The world around you never stops moving so Loopt should provide you with a service that doesn’t either. You’re constantly running errands, answering calls, meeting up with friends, etc. – you need your mobile phone to update your location in real-time while you’re in motion. Loopt supports location updating via its Always-On Location Service even when you’re not running the Loopt application on many platforms and our users love it. That’s why we’re excited to announce that Loopt is providing this separate, optional Always-On Location Service for the iPhoneTM to provide you with information on the "now" as well as the "here".

This is the first service for the iPhoneTM to do this – Loopt continues to push the boundaries of location technologies to provide you with the best experiences possible. We will provide this separate Always-On Location Service to a limited set of Loopt users on a trial basis in order to help test-drive it. Your first 14 days of service are FREE! Standard data and messaging charges apply. If you do not cancel prior to the end of the free 14 days, you will automatically be subscribed and charged $3.99 per month thereafter unless you cancel service.* Fill out the form below if you’re interested in applying to join the trial. We can only grant access to 5,000 of you, so get going!

You can sign up for the trial here.

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