Both Apple and Google are being called upon to remove a Saudi app that allows men to track their female relatives’ movements and potentially restrict their travel.
The app, Absher, partially functions as an e-services portal allowing people to request passports, birth certificates, vehicle registration, and other forms of documentation. However, the app’s description on both Google Play and iTunes says, “you can safely browse your profile or your family members, or labors working for you, and perform a wide range of eServices online.”
In Saudi Arabia, women live under a “guardianship” system, and as a part of it, they are the legal dependent of a man. This has led to women’s travel being restricted within the country, which the app has the potential to further exacerbate. Business Insider reported the app allows men to “specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders, and get close to real-time SMS updates when they travel.”
The Washington Post reported Amnesty International issued a statement, saying, “We call on Apple and Google to assess the risk of human rights abuses on women, which is facilitated by the App, and mitigate the harm that the App has on women.”
Since then, Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, told NPR, “I haven’t heard about [Absher]. But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case.”
Washington is even getting involved now, with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) asking executives at both companies to remove the app.
It is unconscionable that @Google and @Apple are making it easier to track women and control when and how they travel. These companies shouldn’t enable these abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/RDhZoTiQnP
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) February 11, 2019
Apple doesn’t disclose download figures for apps, but Google does. According to the Google play store, Absher’s been downloaded more than 1 million times.