Saudi app that lets men track women cleared for sale by Google
Josie Ensor. The Telegraph•March 4, 2019
Google is refusing to remove a Saudi government app that allows men to track and control women.
The app, which gives men the power to grant and rescind travel permission for women and to set up SMS alerts for when they use their passports, will remain available to buy.
Google said it had reviewed the app — called Absher — and concluded that it did not violate any agreements, and could therefore remain on its Google Play store.
The app, which is owned and operated by the kingdom’s interior ministry, also has features that send alerts if a woman leaves a certain area – making it difficult for women to leave without the say so of a “male guardian”.
Women in the ultra-conservative kingdom must by law have male guardians, whether it be a husband, father, brother or uncle, who gives permission for them to do everything including studying, marrying, renting a house, and travelling.
Google and Apple’s decision to host the app, which has been downloaded more than one million times, has drawn complaints, including from Human Rights Watch which said the tech companies were “facilitating human rights abuses”.
More than a dozen members of US Congress wrote to Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook on February 21, demanding that the app be removed.
They described Google, as well as Apple, as “accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women” for hosting the app.
They gave a deadline of Thursday 28 February to explain why the app is hosted on Google Play.
Ilhan Omar, Democrat Rep, one of the signatories, tweeted: “Women are not your property! Women are not your property! Women are not your property! So why are @Apple and @Google hosting an app that allows men to track and control women’s movement in Saudi Arabia? This insanity needs to end!”
The subject of Saudi women’s right to travel was highlighted last month after an 18-year-old Saudi woman fled her family over alleged abuse.
Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun said she took her passport while on holiday in Kuwait and travelled to Thailand hoping to claim asylum.