One of texting's most common messages — "Where r u?" — may become a quaint phrase of the past with a new program that lets your friends and associates find out for themselves.
The program Sniff, which stands for "social network integrated friend finder," will track down anyone who has signed up and agreed to be "Sniffed."
Generally for less than $1, Sniff produces a rough address and map for any participant using the same technology rescuers employ to find wayward hikers who call 911 by cell phone — triangulating the caller's location based on which cell phone towers are nearby.
If you're lost, you can Sniff yourself.
About 180,000 users in Scandinavia are doing it, and the program recently launched in the United Kingdom, where Sniff searches go for 50 pence.
Denver-based Useful Networks, owned by Liberty Media Corp., says the program is handy for finding friends on the way to happy hour, and it expects at least two major U.S. wireless carriers — CEO Brian Levin wouldn't say which — to start offering Sniff within weeks through Facebook and http://www.sniffu.com.
The startup Loopt offers a similar service that automatically updates users' friends' locations. And Google Inc.'s Dodgeball will tell all your friends where you are when you sends Dodgeball a message updating your location.
Paula Hammond, executive director of the domestic violence program Project Safeguard in Colorado, worries that Sniff can't verify whether the person who registers a cell phone to participate actually owns the phone. That loophole could enable a stalker, for instance, to track a victim without her knowing, Hammond says.
Sniff says its periodic reminders to users should tip off people who have been registered without their knowledge, and users can make themselves "invisible" to certain Sniffers.
The company's also working on giving faux locations to stalkers — and to bosses looking for employees playing hooky — Levin says.