Google, Apple Called Out For Hosting Saudi Government App That Allows Men To Track Their Spouses' Movements

from the not-a-good-look dept

Seems like this would be something that would go without saying: if you're an American tech company, don't willingly assist oppressive regimes in the oppression of their populace. Twitter is forever helping the Turkish government silence critics and journalists. Facebook has allowed governments to weaponize its moderation tools, quite possibly contributing to government-ordained killings.

Now, Ron Wyden is calling out both Apple and Google for making it easier for Saudi Arabian men to treat their spouses (and employees) like possessions, rather than people.

Apple and Google have been accused of helping to "enforce gender apartheid" in Saudi Arabia, by offering a sinister app which allows men to track women and stop them leaving the country.

Both Google Play and iTunes host Absher, a government web service which allows men to specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders, and to get close to real-time SMS updates when they travel.

There's really no reason either company should be hosting this app in their app stores. If Absher's creators want to distribute an app that prevents certain Saudi citizens from being treated as equals, they're free to host it on their own site. It's not like the developers don't have the clout to go it alone. The app is developed and supported by none other than the Saudi government.

This isn't the sort of thing American companies should be giving platform space to, even if it technically meets the inconsistent standards both companies apply to app submissions.

As critics have pointed out, both companies have policies against apps that "facilitate threats and harassment." Absher may have some benign functions built in (like paying parking tickets) but the overall point of the app is to allow Saudi men to dictate when and where their wives can travel, as well as be alerted to any movements suggesting their spouses are trying to escape the horrible abuses allowed by this country's laws. Threats and harassment are all but guaranteed, and that's without even delving into the app's ability to provide employers with 24-hour surveillance of their employees.

Seems like the easy decision would be to pull the app. What's the potential downside? An oppressive regime complaining about a slight dip in oppression?

Filed Under: absher, app stores, ron wyden, saudi arabia, surveillance
Companies: apple, google

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The First Word

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  1. identicon
    TFG, 13 Feb 2019 @ 1:30pm

    Re: It's called cultural relativism

    I grew up in a region of a country where the cultural understanding is that a wife must be beaten so that she will learn. If the husband does not beat his wife, he is not a good husband. This country is Cote d'Ivoire, located in West Africa. There are differing cultural views within the country, but this was one of them.

    Cultural relativism can be applied to gain an understanding of why an individual man in a specific culture beat his wife that day, while still considering himself a good husband and still professing to love her. You take the circumstances of the instance, take the context in which they occurred, and you can come to a better understanding of why this occurred.

    However, this does not mean I must agree that that was the correct thing to do. This does not mean that it was not wrong for this man to beat his wife. This does not mean that it is incorrect to propose to people that this course of action is wrong.

    From the Wikipedia article on cultural relativism:

    "Cultural relativism involves specific epistemological and methodological claims. Whether or not these claims necessitate a specific ethical stance is a matter of debate."

    I refuse to believe that just because a culture says it is correct to do things a specific way, that I must accept that it is okay for them to do things a specific way.

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