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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  1. identicon
    Anonmylous, 13 Feb 2019 @ 9:24am

    So... someone makes an app that is basically parental tracking +1. Sure, drop it. They'll go back to parental tracking apps, and go back to requiring proof women are allowed to ravel, holding and delaying them until they can reach and confirm they are allowed to travel. Or simply turning them away if unescorted by their spouse/male family member.

    What? You thought this was new? You thought killing this app somehow made things different? You think "well she can just turn off/uninstall the app!" and not get beaten by her husband/father/uncle?

    I know this will be a very unpopular opinion, but think of things from their perspective. This app just gave women in Saudi Arabia a breath of freedom. Its only a breath, but it makes getting through the airport and onto a plane. or driving through a border crossing, easier for them. Its a tiny step, but its definitely a step forward. Its a chink in the armor of absolute control, and will be vulnerable to hacking, allowing more women to escape terrible lives.


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