Apple takes heat over Saudi app that tracks women

Apple and Google in hot water over app that tracks a Saudi woman’s whereabouts

US Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from OR, and a number of human rights groups have asked Google and Apple to take down an app that tracks Saudi Arabian wives, sisters and daughters.

On both Apple and Google's app stores, the app preview states: "Absher has been designed and developed with special consideration to security and privacy of user's data and communication".

Read INSIDER's full report on Absher here, and the criticism aimed at Google and Apple from human rights groups here.

In a letter sent to the tech giants Monday, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden urged them to prevent their app stores from being used by the Saudi government to continue the "abhorrent surveillance and control of women".

The free Absher app, created by the Saudi interior ministry, allows men to update or withdraw permissions for their wives and female relatives to travel internationally and get SMS updates if their passports are used, said human rights researchers.

On Google Play, Absher has been downloaded more than a million times and has a rating of 4.6. Some of them have also asserted that Absher has been triggered during some attempts on the part of women to leave the country.

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Using the app, guardians can register dependent women, grant and cancel travel privileges, as well as blacklist certain destinations with just a few touchscreen presses.

In an open letter to both companies, in response to the report, Mr Wyden wrote: "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".

The app also lets men in Saudi Arabia specify when and where to adult women under their "guardianship", including wives and unmarried daughters, are allowed to travel.

Google and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment. "Apps like this one can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women". "What irony. In the West these technologies are used to improve lives and in Saudi Arabia they're used to enforce gender apartheid", ex-Muslim activist Yasmine Mohammed, added.

Coogle of Human Rights Watch said, "The Saudi government uses this app to discriminate against women, and therefore those who are providing the app should ensure that their app complies with their terms of service and perhaps even look into advocating with Saudi Arabia to change the laws and change the app".

Both firms hosted Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a year ago.

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