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Facebook Places 'sparks interest in similar services'

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Alternative location service echoecho reckons Facebook Places is driving up interest in the subject, to the good of the whole industry and, in particular, echoecho.

Apparently downloads of the echoecho client have multiplied by ten since Facebook Places was announced, which the company attributes to offering much the same functionality as Facebook Places without the privacy concerns. One might argue, though, that it also comes without the revenue generating potential.

Echoecho is a mobile client that can be used to ping anyone in the address book. If the recipient also has echoecho installed they are asked if they wish to respond, and then both users' locations appear as pins in Google Mobile Maps. If the recipient doesn't have echoecho installed then they get a text telling them they really should give it a go.

Users can also specify individuals to whom they'll automatically reply, on an opt-in basis.

The idea is to provide the important bits of Facebook Places without the rather creepy stalking side of things, but it's also driven by the requester, and harder to fake than a Facebook tag. The company reckons offering the recipient a choice to respond ensures privacy, but such a rejection will still have to be explained by the child/girlfriend/employee who gets pinged.

But at least echoecho won't be keeping track of where you were: the company tells us it keeps no logs at all, which does pose the question of how it intends to make money - the service itself is, of course, free.

Founder Nick Bicanic tells us the plan is to charge companies who request the location of their customers - using the example of a bank wishing to confirm a suspicious credit-card transaction. The bank could ping the customer, discover that they (or their phone) are at the same location as the retailer and therefore approve the purchase: all without paying a human to make the call.

That seems like slim pickings to us, even bolstered with some location-based advertising. Facebook Places will be able to implement Foursquare-style incentives for its users, most of whom really do want the world to know where they are and damn the privacy consequences.

Echoecho may be a nice service for a group of friends who like to meet up - it's easy to imagine students making great use of it - but when Facebook Places can simply opt in 500 million users it's hard to see how anyone can compete. ®

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