State-run app allowing Saudi men to track women slammed by critics
A mobile application that lets Saudi men track their wives and daughters received the ire of critics. The app, called Absher, was created by the National Information Center, as per NPR on Feb. 12, and is a project of the Saudi Ministry of Interior.
The description of Absher on the AppStore vaguely says it allows the user to “safely browse your profile or your family members, or labors working for you, and perform a wide range of eServices online.” It is available on both Apple and Google app stores.
Many figures have since criticized the app for its monitoring of women, and the tech giants for carrying the said app, with United States politicians on their heels.
U.S. senator Ron Wyden took to social media to call on Google and Apple to remove the apps from the app stores. He has also written a letter addressed to Apple and Google CEOs Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai regarding the issue, according to various reports.
“I am demanding that @Google and @Apple pull down apps that promote abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia,” Wyden said on Twitter on Feb. 12.
He also said it is unconscionable for Google and Apple to make it easy to track women, and control when and how they travel.
“These companies shouldn’t enable these abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia,” he said on Feb. 11.
It is unconscionable that @Google and @Apple are making it easier to track women and control when and how they travel. These companies shouldn’t enable these abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/RDhZoTiQnP
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) February 11, 2019
Democratic Caucus vice chair Katherine Clark also criticized Google and Apple for carrying Absher, saying it is a “patriarchal weapon.”
“It allows Saudi men to track women, restrict their travel and enable human rights violations,” she said on Twitter today, Feb. 14. “#Apple and #Google must stop facilitating this dangerous tool of control.”
Brian Krassenstein, editor of independently-owned liberal news site Hill Reporter, echoed similar sentiments.
“I join Senator Wyden in calling for @Apple and @Google to immediately remove the Saudi government’s Absher app from their respective stores,” he said on Twitter on Feb. 12. “Absher allows Saudi men to control the travel of Saudi women.”
Absher allows Saudi men to control the travel of Saudi women.
RETWEET if you join this call!
— Brian Krassenstein (@krassenstein) February 12, 2019
Meanwhile, journalist and author John Simpson took to Twitter where he stated that the app also alerts men whenever their female dependents try to use their passports.
“There’s an app called Absher in Saudi Arabia which allows men to track their female ‘dependents’ if they try to leave the country,” he said on Feb. 11. “Absher, which is run by the Interior Ministry, messages them whenever the women use their passports.”
There's an app called Absher in Saudi Arabia which allows men to track their female 'dependents' if they try to leave the country. Absher, which is run by the Interior Ministry, messages them whenever the women use their passports.
— John Simpson (@JohnSimpsonNews) February 11, 2019
Apple’s Cook told NPR on Feb. 11 that they would be looking into the app, while Google has yet to respond.
Saudi Arabia is known for its system of male guardianship wherein “a woman’s life is controlled by a man from birth until death,” as per the Human Rights Watch last July 2016. Saudi women are under the control of a male guardian, usually a father or husband, who make decisions on her behalf, ranging from travel and marriage, to access to healthcare and applying for jobs.
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. Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, then, barricaded herself in an airport hotel in Bangkok to avoid deportation and took to Twitter to ask for help. She has since been offered asylum by Canada. Cody Cepeda/JB