Senator calls for Google, Apple to drop Saudi app that monitors women

Apple and Google in hot water over app that tracks a Saudi woman’s whereabouts

Senator calls for Google, Apple to drop Saudi app that monitors women

Before apps became such a huge part of our daily lives, Saudi women had to present a signed yellow form whenever they travelled overseas unaccompanied by their guardians, which was easier to forge, but because Absher works in real-time, it's much harder to get around.

Human rights groups are also calling on Apple and Google to consider the abuse and discrimination that the app could fuel.

The app, called Absher, helps users navigate passports, birth certificates and vehicle registration through the kingdom's interior ministry. Among the app's main features is an alert system that sends text messages to a man when their wife or daughter tries to use their passport, making it easier to catch women trying to flee the country's restrictive regime.

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.

It remains illegal for women in Saudi Arabia to travel without permission from a so-called male guardian.

But the Absher app has made the process much more convenient for men, and human rights advocates are concerned that the electronic tracking adds yet another level of repression for Saudi women.

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Post that the app is used to "discriminate against women".

The app has been downloaded 4.2 million times on the App Store and 5 million times on Google Play since launching in mid-2015, according to Apptopia. The Interior Ministry says on its website that Absher platforms for individuals and businesses have more than 11 million users.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticized Apple and Google for hosting the app. Download data is not available for Apple devices. "So, you can safely browse your profile or your family members, or labors [sic] working for you, and perform a wide range of eServices online". It is the first time Apple has addressed the app after it declined to respond to INSIDER's repeated requests for comment.

It contains indications that the app is used to prevent women engaging in transit, particularly that which involves leaving Saudi Arabia, if they feel they need to. Her escape and criticism of the Saudi government have drawn heightened attention to the country's male guardianship laws.

Both firms hosted Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a year ago.

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