Apple accused over app for Saudi men to track wives

Business Insider Screenshot from the desktop version of Absher

Business Insider Screenshot from the desktop version of Absher

The app is called Absher and is also available on Android, but then it has less advertised oversight than the Apple store.

An 18-year-old Saudi woman garnered worldwide attention last January after she fled her family while visiting Kuwait, citing that she was being abused. Saudi officials argue that such restrictions are rooted in their culture and supported by many in the kingdom. "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".

But removing the app would not get rid of the country's guardianship laws, she said, and men could still change their female relatives' status online or in government offices. "But obviously we'll take a look at it".

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden also blasted Google and Apple for hosting the app on Monday, saying hosting it was "unconscionable" and enables "abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia".

According to the description of the app in the Apple Store, with Absher, "you can safely browse your profile or your family members, or [laborers] working for you, and perform a wide range of eServices online". Both stores have policies banning inappropriate content such as the promotion of hate speech, graphic violence, bullying and harassment.

"We call on these companies to assess the risk of human rights abuses and mitigate harm that these apps may have on women", Dana Ahmed, Saudi Arabia researcher for Amnesty International, told ThisIsInsider. "It has other services that are quite generic and normal government services", she says.

He requested that they prevent their companies from "being used by the Saudi government to enable the abhorrent surveillance and control of women". Apple is proud of the fact that it checks every app to see that it does not breach its standards. Some of them have also asserted that Absher has been triggered during some attempts on the part of women to leave the country. "When they're evaluating whether an app should be allowed. providers really should consider the broader context or the objective of the app, how it's being used in practice and whether it's facilitating abuse".

Tech giants Apple and Google are facing pressure from rights groups and lawmakers to remove a Saudi-built app developed for tracking women from its platforms. The app features fields where a guardian can fill in a woman's name, passport number, the number of trips they can take and for how long. Before apps became such a huge part of our daily lives, Saudi women had to present a signed yellow form whenever they travelled overseas unaccompanied by their guardians, which was easier to forge, but because Absher works in real-time, it's much harder to get around.

Latest News