Apple accused over app for Saudi men to track wives

Sergio Conner
February 13, 2019

A USA senator is asking the chief executives of Apple and Google to immediately stop offering a Saudi e-government app that allows men in Saudi Arabia to track and control the movement of women. Talking about it to National Public Radio, Cook said he was not aware of the app but promised to take action if that was the case.

Human rights groups are also calling on Apple and Google to consider the abuse and discrimination that the app could fuel.

In an interview with NPR on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about Absher.

It is illegal for women in the kingdom to travel without the permission of a male guardian, typically a male relative or spouse.

The Absher app, which is designed for a range of government services, such as renewing driving licences, makes the process of allowing or prohibiting travel a lot easier, and it can be done via a smartphone.

The app has been downloaded 4.2 million times on the App Store and 5 million times on Google Play since launching in mid-2015, according to Apptopia.

An investigation from website Insider exposed how it was being used by male guardians to register wives, sisters and daughters to either restrict or permit worldwide travel.

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Men can use Absher to curb the travel of Saudi females by letting them leave or not leave the country, as well as restricting when and where women are allowed to go.

"American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy", Wyden wrote, adding that the Saudi system of control over women "abhorrent".

Developed by the government of Saudi Arabia, Absher has been around for a while, but it only started making waves in western media after an article in ThisIsInsider highlighted one of its most controversial features - allowing male "guardians" to track and restrict women's movements via their smartphones.

"There's a definite tragedy in the world's most technologically progressive platforms, Apple and Google, facilitating the most archaic misogyny".

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concern over Apple and Google's continued hosting of the app.

The first explained how the app works in depth, and how some women in Saudi Arabia are managing to get around it to claim asylum in other nations.

The app is available in the Saudi version of the Google and Apple online stores. The calls for change come amid an enduring scandal over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

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