Saga, an app created by Seattle startup A.R.O., is introducing a social layer in today’s update. In other words, all the data that Saga collects about you can now be shared with friends who are also using the app.
The Saga app quietly tracks your location and activity through your smartphone sensors (it’s available for both iPhone and Android, and CEO Andy Hickl told me the team has worked hard to bring battery usage down to 1 percent per hour) and by integrating with outside services like FitBit, RunKeeper, and TripIt.
“The iPhone is giving me all this great data, but in the end, I’m just a boy with my data,” Hickl said. With Saga, he wants to unite disparate pieces of information into a larger, more useful story about what you’re doing and what you care about — and now users can share that story with friends and family.
You might question the need for something like this, especially since social media is already criticized for highlighting the minutiae of people’s lives. However, Hickl noted that when you post something on a social profile, it is, in part, “a performance” — when you check-in somewhere on Foursquare, you’re making a point of telling people, “Hey, I’m here at this cool event!” Since sharing on Saga is more comprehensive and automated, it can present a picture of you that’s more authentic.
The sharing features also include the ability to share “bundles” of specific locations, for example all the spots you visited during a vacation.
Of course, when you get into this kind of sharing, privacy is a big concern. As demonstrated to me by Hickl, Saga handles that by giving users a lot of control over what gets shared and with whom. For example, you might choose to only share your location after a delay, or only after you’ve left town. The model seems to be inspired in part by the Circles in Google+ — you can set up different rules for what’s seen publicly, what’s seen by acquaintances, and what’s seen by close friends.
Now, I’m not totally sure whether this model might require a little too much work — after all, I thought Circles sounded in good in theory but in practice I found them exhausting — but it does seem to strike a balance between giving users a lot of control without overwhelming them. More importantly, Hickl said the team will be monitoring usage closely and will make adjustments as necessary.
Plus, if you’re really not interested in sharing, the default setting within Saga is to keep everything private.
On a broad level, Hickl also emphasized the importance of user privacy, saying, “We’ll never sell individual users’ data” and pointing out that users can delete their entire account and records (not just in the app itself but anywhere their data is stored in the Saga ecosystem) whenever they want.
When asked whether this is the kind of personal information that the government might become interested in at some point, Hickl added, “We want to be good stewards. I really can’t say what they’re going to be interested in and not interested in, but even before we wrote a lot of line of code, we were asking ourselves, ‘How do we make sure somebody can feel as safe as they can?'”
A.R.O. is backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.