Tim Cook…the CEO of Apple…is promising to investigate an app that lets Saudi men control where women travel. Veuer’s Nick Cardona has that story.
Apple and Google are facing criticism for offering an app that lets men in Saudi Arabia track and control the movement of women.
The app, called Absher, is listed in Apple’s app store and the Google Play store as a Kingdom of Saudi Arabia eServices Mobile Application that lets you “safely browse your profile or your family members, or labors working for you, and perform a wide range of eServices online.”
Men can use the app to get texts telling them about the movements of their wives and daughters, aspects that have led critics to call for Apple and Google to shut down the apps.
“Saudi men can also reportedly use Absher to receive real-time text message alerts every time these women enter or leave the country or to prevent these women from leaving the country,” wrote Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, in a letter sent to both companies this week. The Washington Post first wrote about Wyden’s letter on Tuesday.
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Earlier this month, the news site Insider wrote about a Saudi woman’s escape from her father and family while on vacation in Turkey. She stole the family’s smartphones because the Absher app, which was loaded on them, could allow them to track her.
Saudi guardianship rules require women to get permission from a male guardian to travel or do other daily activities.
The app, created by the National Information Center within the Saudi Ministry of Interior, lets men specify where women can go and how long women can travel and get alerts when movements go beyond that.
Apple CEO Tim Cook told NPR on Monday that he would investigate the situation. “I haven’t heard about it,” he said. “But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case.”
A Google spokesman told The New York Times Wednesday that the company is assessing Absher to determine if it is complies with its policies.
Apple and Google did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment on the issue.
The Absher app handles some standard government functions such as paying fines, according to Insider. But it also tracks women in Saudi Arabia and has a messaging feature that texts men when a woman uses a passport or checks in at an airport.
“It’s really designed with the men in mind,” Human Rights Watch researcher Rothna Begum told NPR. “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.”
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 said in a statement to the 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.”
A Saudi woman who says she is fleeing abuse by her family and wants asylum in Australia barricaded herself in an airport hotel in the Thai capital on Monday. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun has sent out desperate pleas for help over social media. (Jan. 7)
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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