Google to Continue Hosting Controversial Saudi ‘Woman-Tracking’ App

A Saudi Interior Ministry employee stands in front of a screen displaying the Absher mobile app logo in Riyadh. FAYEZ NURELDINE AFP/Getty Images
Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

Google will continue to host the controversial Saudi Arabian app Absher in its Play store after a probe found the app did not violate its terms of service.

Apple and Google came under scrutiny last month when 14 members of Congress wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking both companies to stop hosting the app because it reinforces Saudi laws that allow men to control women’s movements. Both companies launched internal investigations into the app.

At the conclusion of Google’s investigation, the company told the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, one of the letter’s signatories, that the investigation concluded the app doesn’t violate any agreements. Apple’s investigation continues.

Absher, which is sponsored by the Saudi government, allows citizens to complete a variety of bureaucratic tasks, from renewing driver’s licenses to male guardians giving women permission to seek a job, which is legally required in Saudi Arabia.

Some Saudis say the app actually saves time and makes bureaucratic tasks easier, but American lawmakers seem to disagree. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who sent a separate letter to Apple and Google, said,”American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy.”

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