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Google, Apple Under Fire to Block Saudi 'Woman Tracker' App

Men use the app to generate text messages which provide information related to the movements of their wives and daughters. | Photo: Reuters file Men use the app to generate text messages which provide information related to the movements of their wives and daughters. | Photo: Reuters file
Apple and Google are facing major backlash, from human rights activists and lawmakers, after being accused of supporting patriarchy with a Saudi Arabian “woman tracker app" which is used to monitor and manage the whereabouts of women in the Arab nation.
Human Rights Watch’s Rothna Begum said: "It's really designed with the men in mind. Of course, it's incredibly demeaning, insulting and humiliating for the women and downright abusive in many cases."

"I haven't heard about it," Apple CEO Tim Cook told NPR, adding that he would investigate the situation. "But obviously we'll take a look at it if that's the case."

The app, Absher, is listed in both the Apple's app store and the Google Play store as a Kingdom of Saudi Arabia eServices Mobile Application which enables "safely browse your profile or your family members, or labors working for you, and perform a wide range of eServices online."

Human Rights Watch’s Rothna Begum said: "It's really designed with the men in mind. Of course, it's incredibly demeaning, insulting and humiliating for the women and downright abusive in many cases, because you're allowing men absolute control over women's movements."

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden sent letters to both companies, according to a Washington Post report, further explaining that "Saudi men can also use Absher to receive real-time text message alerts every time [the] women enter or leave the country or to prevent these women from leaving the country."

Men can easily generate text messages which provide information related to the movements of their wives and daughters, USA Today reports.

"It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy," Wyden added.

Amnesty International has also condemned the app.

“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,” the group stated in a release to TheWashington Post.

“The use of the Absher app to curtail the movement of women once again highlights the disturbing system of discrimination against women under the guardianship system and the need for genuine human rights reforms in the country, rather than just social and economic reforms.”

Absher, was created by the National Information Center, which - according to a Saudi government website - is a project of the Saudi Ministry of Interior.

Saudi Arabia’s guardianship rules require women to get permission from a male guardian - a father, husband, brother, or even a son - to travel or simply to carry out normal daily activities.

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