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Women walk on Tahlia street in the Saudi capital Riyadh on September 24, 2017, during celebrations for the anniversary of the founding of the kingdom. (FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Abhorrent’

Saudi app that allows men to track and control women must go, Apple and Google told

By WITW Staff on February 13, 2019

Apple and Google are facing accusations of complicity in the oppression of women over a Saudi government-created app that helps men deny women the right to travel with just a few clicks. Using Absher, which is easily downloaded off of Apple and Google’s platforms, Saudi men can receive text message updates when a woman they have guardianship rights over, such as a wife or daughter, uses her passport. The app can also be used to dictate what places the guardian will allow a women to travel — and to rescind permission in real time, if he so chooses.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on the tech giants to remove Absher from their platforms, decrying the app as a horrifying example of the way that technology can be used by governments to enable human rights abuses. In particular, they noted, the app appears designed to help men prevent women from attempting to flee abuse or Saudi Arabia’s oppressive guardianship system itself. In one such high profile case in January, Saudi teenager Rahaf al-Qunun had her passport confiscated from her while attempting to flee her allegedly abusive family. When she took to social media to issue a desperate cry for help, the ensuing publicity helped prevent her from being forcibly returned home and allowed her to find asylum in Canada.

In an open letter on Monday, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden accused Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai of helping “facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy,” and demanded that they immediately remove the “abhorrent” app from their platforms.

“By permitting the the app in your respective stores, your companies are making it easier for Saudi men to control their family members from the convenience of their smartphones and restrict their movement,” he wrote. “This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook told NPR that he would investigate the situation.

Read the full story at NPR.

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