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With GPS dating, the One may be around the corner

Radar love Add to ...

Dick sees Jane. Jane sees Dick. Their phones have tabulated the distance between them, exchanged information about their age, employment status and relationship expectations, and even thoughtfully suggested a local watering hole.

GPS has long helped drivers find alternate routes around traffic and construction. Now, it's helping people find love, with a new frontier of location-based dating.

Mobile dating applications such as Skout and Are You Interested? let users download software onto their phones that alerts them when a potential match is within spitting distance. The technology allows people to date spontaneously, but also gives "chance a hand," as BluePont, a service boasting nearly 140,000 meet-ups, puts it.

If The One is taking a leak at the same Starbucks, your cell will let you know.

GPS daters can specify what they're looking for - whether it's a relationship, fling or workout buddy. Working off cellphone towers and a phone's internal GPS, the applications alert users when they come within a few hundred metres of a potential match: typically, a first name, age, gender and photo will pop up on the phone. They can then exchange private messages, set up an in-person meeting, or, if unmoved, ignore the suggestion.

"It's nice to have a spontaneous and romantic meeting face to face," said BluePont CEO Alex Bloom, who launched it out of Los Angeles last summer for BlackBerry. "But I think the odds are vastly improved if you don't just bump into people who happen to be very close to you but also a person 100, 200 or 300 metres away."

The pioneer of GPS dating was Lovegety, which originated in Japan in 1998 and notified users if a match was nearby by vibrating their cellphones. Lovegety inspired Bluedating, spontaneous matchmaking via Bluetooth. Soon after came "geosocial" networking services such as Loopt and Brightkite.com, which allow people to keep track of friends and explore "social communities around your favourite venue."

Today, the dating industry is teeming with GPS-based contenders, thanks largely to the iPhone. Online behemoth Match.com has developed a location-based app for its millions of users, and more recently, Grindr.com emerged for gay and bisexual men.

"What's important with this new wave of tools … is timing and location," said Christian Wiklund, founder and chief executive of Skout, which has 500,000 members.

Mr. Wiklund said they are mostly 25, use Facebook and Twitter, enjoy posting media wherever they are, and want to meet piles of people. On Skout, over stimulated singles can upload photos and start hunting for a date within minutes of signing up.

"If you ever sign up for eHarmony, you're going to spend a Sunday afternoon at least filling out hundreds of questions, and the computer analyzes you and matches you up with someone you'll hopefully live happily with for the rest of your life. That's a completely different approach from what we have."

Immediacy was what Barbara Schulman was after when she created MobiMeet with her brother Marc Schonberger in April for the iPhone and iTouch. Recently divorced, the New York-based video editor had the idea after she spotted a handsome man on her errand run but didn't have the courage to hone in with a pickup line.

"I have this very romantic view of meeting someone. You could be in a supermarket and Mr. Right could be right around the corner," Ms. Schulman said.

Even though the applications are all explicitly opt-in, they've raised safety concerns. With stalker risks in mind, most will only reveal the distance between users, not their exact location. They also let users block others if they become pesky.

But GPS dating also stirs numerous ethical concerns, said Hal Niedzviecki, Toronto-based author of The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors . Lately, Mr. Niedzviecki has been experimenting with Google Latitude. Launched in February, Latitude lets users see "where their friends are and what they are up to" on a map.

"On the surface of it, it's kind of neat to see people that you know, or don't know, or want to know. As they inch toward you, you follow their progress," he said.

But there are many downsides people don't consider, he added, especially since few pore over the companies' privacy agreements.

"This makes us more amenable to surveillance," he said, pointing to potential lawsuits, with police demanding records of your movements. He noted an American case where divorce lawyers hauled out electronic bridge-toll records to prove a husband wasn't at his business meeting but with his mistress.

Another unsavoury hitch is location-based advertising, with companies allowing corporations to track the movements of their young clients - "a very desirable demographic" - and then target them.

"Advertising is a big reason these things are of interest to corporations, for you to be near something and be told, 'Hey! This pizza place is great!'" Mr. Niedzviecki said.

MobiMeet's Ms. Schulman, for instance, mused about one day sending dates to Dunkin' Donuts.

Cruller promotions aside, she has hope for the techie love scene: "It's as good a shot as anything else."

 

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