Cell Phones Become Virtual Matchmakers

In this week's Cybershake, we take a look at how one cellular service provider wants to help you make wireless connections of the romantic type. Plus, we note a new survey that says more people are going online rather than waiting in line to complete their banking chores.

Handy Heart-to-Heart Hookups?

Cell phones are vital lifelines for a busy -- and mobile -- population. But more than supply just a wireless link to friends, family, co-workers and the boss, could a mobile phone provide lonely owners with a love connection? Sprint says yes.

This week, just in time for Valentine's Day, the telecom giant has rolled out new dating services available through its Sprint PCS Vision phone service. The mobile matchmaking services are geared to help the wandering lovelorn find a date, a mate or just have some fun.

Rachel Agronsky, product marketing manager with Sprint, says the two services -- SMS.ac and Match.com Mobile, a version of Web-based Match.com -- share similar features. Users can search through the online databases to find others based on age, appearances, interests and geographical location.

"You can look for people within five miles of you, 10 miles of you. You can look for people with brown hair and blue eyes," says Agronsky. "You can be specific or unspecific, depending on what you're looking to do."

To make a connection with others on either mobile dating service, users send Short Messaging Service text messages. The brief notes are sent without revealing the cell phone's number so users are protected with a bit of anonymity. And public chat rooms on the services are monitored, says Agronsky.

The company plans to expand its mobile data services soon with another Web-based partner, Lavalife. That service will offer similar search and SMS features, but add additional voice capabilities. When mobile date seekers feel like they're ready to chat one-on-one, the service will connect their cell phones together for a voice call.

Customers can sign up for the dating services as part of the Sprint PCS Vision data plan, which allows their cell phone to access the Net wirelessly.

-- Andrea Smith, ABC News

Banking Online, Not in Line

The latest online craze is attracting the attention of millions of Internet users and some very deep-pocketed organizations. And it's all about money.

According to the latest survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 53 million U.S. Web surfers have taken to using the Net to conduct common banking chores -- pay various bills, confirm account balances and transfer money among different accounts, for example. That number is a 47 percent jump over the number who banked online in 2002.

"We now find that 44 percent of Internet users -- that means one quarter of all American adults -- now say they use online banking," says Susannah Fox, associate director of research with the Pew Internet and American Life Project. "It's extraordinary. Online banking is the fastest-growing activity that we've tracked since 2000."

The study finds that the young, fast and rich tend to be smitten with going online rather that wait in line at a bank.

Sixty percent of those survey respondents aged 28 to 39 years old were likely to have tried online banking. But only 25 percent of seniors over the age of 60 replied that they have tried it.

Sixty-three percent of those with so-called broadband Net connection at home have tried online banking. Only 35 percent of those with slower dial-up connections report.

While banking online grew among all income levels, affluent consumers showed the most growth. Among households with $75,000 or more in annual income, 55 percent said they have tried it. Two years ago, only 35 percent who responded said they banked online.

Fox says the rise of online banking can be traced to the growing maturity and experience on online users. As surfers become more comfortable in making online purchases, travel arrangements, and participating in online auctions, they are more likely to perform other financial transactions, including banking online.

Also, banks and financial institutions are making big efforts to push online banking because it cuts down on operating costs.

"People who use online banking make fewer customer service calls," says Fox. "That means banks don't have to employ as many people to answer those phones."

As such, many banks are offering online services for free, in hopes that even more customers will make the switch.

Still, the news about online banking isn't all trouble free. The report notes that the rise of "phishing" -- fraudulent e-mails that attempt to steal customers' banking and credit card information -- is degrading customers' trust in online banking.

The Online Banking 2005 survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points and can be found at Pew's Web site: www.pewinternet.org.

-- Richard Davies, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.

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