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MENLO PARK, Calif., March 27 (Reuters) - Facebook Inc will add a feature to its Messenger app on Monday to allow users to share their locations, the company said, ramping up competition with tools offered by Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google Maps.
The company has found that one of the most used phrases on Messenger as people talk to friends and family is "How far away are you?" or some variation, Stan Chudnovsky, head of product for Messenger, said in an interview.
"It happens to be what people are saying, what they're interested in the most," he said.
Sharing location information will be optional, he said, but it will also be live, so that once a user shares the information with a friend, the friend will be able to watch the user's movement for up to 60 minutes.
Messenger was once part of the core Facebook smartphone app, but the company broke it out as a separate app in 2014 and has since invested in frequent changes to build a service distinct from the massive social network.
Google Maps said last week that it was adding a similar feature, an attempt to boost engagement on a product of increasing strategic importance to that company.
The close proximity of the announcements tells Facebook "that we're working on the right things," Chudnovsky said.
The Messages app on Apple's iPhone has such a feature, too.
Facebook has been testing its change in Mexico, he said. It was ready as long ago as October, he added, but the company worked on it for five more months to minimize the impact on the battery life of phones.
Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Cynthia Osterman