‘Facilitating Saudi Patriarchy:’ Apple and Google Blasted for Carrying App Where Saudi Men Track Wives

February 13, 2019, 12:14 PM UTC

Apple and Google have come under fire for carrying a Saudi government app called Absher that allows men in the country to supervise their wives’ travel.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told NPR that he hadn’t heard about the app, “But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case,” he said.

Apple did not immediately return Fortune‘s request for comment; neither did Google, which also hosts the app in its Play store.

Absher featured in two Insider stories earlier this month that detailed how the app works and why it can cause harm to asylum-seeking Saudi women. Women in the kingdom are subject to laws that require male guardians to approve their movements.

For example, one asylum-seeker in an Insider story named Shahad al-Mohaimeed took her family’s phones with her when she escaped on a family vacation in Turkey to prevent them from tracking her via the app. She later applied for asylum in Georgia. Other women use their guardian’s phones to approve their own travel and disable alerts.

The app has caught the attention of Sen. Ron Wyden (D–Ore.), who wrote to Apple and Google, urging them to ban apps that permit—as he calls it—”abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”

“American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy,” Wyden added.

Human rights groups have also spoken out against the app.

“Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate threats and harassment,” Rothna Begum, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told to Business Insider. “Apps like this one can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women.”

Similarly, Dana Ahmed, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Amnesty International, said these companies must “assess the risk of human rights abuses and mitigate harm that these apps may have on women.”

While Saudi Arabia has introduced some women’s rights reforms, its law still requires women to obtain permission from their male guardian to travel. The Absher app facilitates those permissions, indicating, for instance, which days a woman is allowed to go through airport customs. It also hosts other mundane government-related activities such as renewing driver’s licenses.

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