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. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 13 Feb 2019 @ 7:23am

    Re: Re: Re:

    True enough, but the thing that it's a symptom of--the flat-out horrific views that the Saudi regime has on women's rights and human rights in general--is beyond Google's or Apple's power to fix. This is not.

    The phrase "just treating a symptom" has some validity to it, but not always. For example, there are a number of diseases that used to be thought of as an automatic death sentence because the symptoms included lethal levels of dysentery, until someone noticed that the reason the dysentery killed you was from dehydration. Turns out that if you drink lots of water and keep your basic nutrition up, so that your body doesn't waste away, it will buy you the time your immune system needs to kill off the disease, and you end up recovering.

    (Not sure how well that notion translates to the problem of the Saudi regime, but it's worth keeping in mind...)


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