Start-up implants GPS in cell phones

November 7, 2007
By Roxna Irani

Silicon Valley startup Loopt, the brainchild of Stanford student Sam
Altman, enables users to know the location, activities and availability
of their friends at all times without using phone calls or email. Using
location-based technologies, the program facilitates real-world
interaction between friends via a social mapping service available on
mobile hand-sets.

Altman, who is currently on leave from Stanford where he is an
undergraduate in computer science, conceived the idea for mapping one’s
friends’ locations during the spring of his sophomore year in 2005.
That summer, along with co-founders and fellow students Nick Sivo ‘08
and Alok Deshpande ‘07, Altman began to work on the Loopt prototype.

“I’ve always been interested in GPS [Global Positioning System] and
realized there was a huge opportunity with GPS and cell phones,” Altman
wrote in an email to The Daily. “The differentiating feature of
mobility (as opposed to, say, desktop computing) is that location
changes, and you can use this information to build incredibly relevant
and powerful applications.”

According to the company’s Web site, the service “turns your cell
phone into a friend finder with detailed maps that show you who is

The team, joined by brothers Rick and Tom Pernikoff, successfully
launched its first version of Loopt with Boost Mobile in September 2006
after receiving funding from Sequoia Capital. At present, Loopt is
available on Boost Mobile and Sprint Nextel, but the developers are
looking to expand to numerous other carriers in the near future.

According to Deshpande, once Loopt becomes more popular it will
“change the way people use phones to connect with many people at once.”

Both Altman and Deshpande agree that digital privacy is a complex and important issue that Loopt takes very seriously.

“I probably wouldn’t have wanted my mom to see where I was at all
times in high school,” Altman said, “so we ensured that Loopt is a
closed network service with advanced privacy features to screen who
knows your whereabouts at any given time.”

Deshpande emphasized the individualized aspect of the program.

“Loopt is designed to reach individual levels of comfort,” he said,
“to a large degree enabling the user to choose to disclose select
information according to personal choice at all times.”

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