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Apple accused over app for Saudi men to track wives

14 February 2019

Human rights activists have expressed concern over the app's ability to control women's movements in a country where their rights are already highly restricted.

The description of the app in both stores says that 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".

Women in Saudi Arabia have limited options in terms of where they're allowed to go and what they're allowed to do, but American companies shouldn't facilitate the kingdom's system of discriminating against half its population.

"The use of the Absher app to curtail the movement of women once again highlights the disturbing system of discrimination against women under the guardianship system and the need for genuine human rights reforms in the country, rather than just social and economic reforms", Amnesty added. Previously, the entire process was done with paper forms.

Read INSIDER's full report on Absher here, and the criticism aimed at Google and Apple from human rights groups here.

"It's really designed with the men in mind", Rothna Begum, a senior researcher on women's rights at Human Rights Watch, told NPR.

On Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to Google and Apple, requesting they remove the app - which allows users to list "dependents" by name and passport number, restricting their ability to travel - from their platforms. "I haven't heard about it", he said. "But obviously we'll take a look at it if that's the case".

Google has not responded to requests from the BBC for comment.

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Apple does not include the number of downloads for apps, but according to the Google Play store, Absher has been installed on devices more than 1 million times. The agency was created by the Saudi Ministry of Interior and "provides IT solutions and services to the Ministry sectors and other government agencies".

He also said it is unconscionable for Google and Apple to make it easy to track women, and control when and how they travel.

Absher users are given an alert if any of the parameters set within the app are broken allowing a guardian to interdict.

'While many women fleeing Saudi Arabia expect to face difficulties on their journey, particularly attempts by Saudi authorities to interdict and return them against their will, ' states the post.

But the app, according to human rights advocates, also facilitates Saudi Arabia's patriarchal guardianship system.

Earlier this month, the Absher app from the Saudi government on the App Store came under scrutiny after it was discovered that it was used by Saudi males to track their female family members.

A USA senator is asking the chief executives of Apple and Google to immediately stop offering a Saudi e-government app that allows men in Saudi Arabia to track and control the movement of women.

Apple accused over app for Saudi men to track wives