Google, Apple Condemned For Continuing To Carry Saudi Wife-Tracking App

Apple and Google - which have had zero compunction about removing "inappropriate content" that promotes "hate speech, graphic violence, bullying and harassment" have come under heavy criticism by human rights activists and lawmakers for carrying an app that allows Saudi men to track the whereabouts of their wives and daughters. 

Created by the National Information Center, the app - Absher, contains a database of women in Saudi Arabia and the means to prohibit them from travel - or catch them leaving without permission

Of note, more than 1,000 women flee Saudi Arabia each year according to Mansour al-Askar of the Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University in a May 2017 statement to The Economist .

According to Human RIghts Watch, Saudi women require permission from a male guardian - usually their father or husband, to leave the country. 

"It's really designed with the men in mind," said senior Human Rights Watch researcher, Rothna Begum. "Of course, it's incredibly demeaning, insulting and humiliating for the women and downright abusive in many cases, because you're allowing men absolute control over women's movements."

Begum told CNN that Google and Apple "should be considering the way that the app is being used and in practice," and has suggested that the Silicon Valley companies ask the Saudi government to remove the guardianship functionality from the app. 

"Apple and Google could have more oversight over any government services apps anyway," said Begum. "They should be looking to see whether or not these government apps are facilitating human rights abuses or encouraging discrimination in the country as well."

This (app) is not unusual for Saudi Arabia. They use modern technology to impose archaic and discriminatory rules. They are very interested in using modern tech -- but (are) not looking at modernizing their actual systems, which is to move away from incredibly discriminatory practices, and incredibly demeaning practices too. -Rothna Begum via CNN

Amnesty International has also called on the Silicon Valley tech titans to "assess the risk of human rights abuses on women which is facilitated by the App and mitigate the harm that the App has on women."

"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," said Amnesty International in a statement emailed to CNN.

In response to the outrage over Absher, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to both Google and Apple, asking them to " immediately remove from your app stores the Saudi government's Absher app, which enables Saudi men to track and control the movements of Saudi women."

"according to media reports, Saudi men can also use Absher to surveil and track women under their "guardianship," such as their wives and unmarried daughters," Wyden's letter continues. "Saudi men can also reportedly use Absher to receive real-time text message alerts every time these women enter or leave the country or to prevent these women from leaving the country."

Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a Monday interview with NPR "I haven't heard about it," adding "But obviously we'll take a look at it if that's the case."