Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store continue to host a Saudi government app, Absher, which allows men in the country to track their female relatives' movements and Limit their journey.
According to the Washington Post, the Saudi Interior Ministry designed the app as an e-government and e-services portal, including features such as passports, birth certificates, vehicle registration, or other documentation. But as a Business Insider piece last week noted, it also allows male Saudis "to specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders and to get close to SMS updates in real time when traveling." Absher can be used to limit the destinations that Saudi women can travel to, and prevent them from traveling anywhere outside the country, and the SMS alert system is used to alert the men if the women are trying to leave themselves.
It's a pretty big deal, given that women in Saudi Arabia live under a patriarchal "watchkeeping" system that requires them to be legally dependent on a man – and get that man to go to school, manage their work and finance, marry and travel abroad or in public. Women are also required to have male chaperones in many situations and have fewer legal rights than men, and they can be arrested for "disobedience". Absher seems to automate elements of this system, and as the record noted, the Ministry claims it has 11 million users.
Critics say the app violates the guidelines of both stores, such as bullying and harassment.
"We ask Apple and Google to assess the risk of human rights violations in women, which is eased by the App and reduce the damage The app has on women," Amnesty International said in a statement statement. "The use of the Absher app to Restricting women's movement again highlights the disturbing system of discrimination against women under the watch management system and the need for genuine human rights reforms in the country, rather than just social and economic reforms. " Human Rights Watch Senior Researcher on Women's Rights Rothna Begum told the NPR that the program was" Really designed with the men in mind. Of course, it is incredibly abominable, insulting and humiliating for the women and simply offensive in many cases, because you allow men full control over women's movements. "
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden also blew Google and Apple to cough the app on Monday, hosting it was" undiscovered "and enabling" violent practices against women in Saudi Arabia. "
According to the NPR, the app said the app proved useful to some women trying to escape repression – but only because they were able to steal their guardian's phone and use it to remove travel restrictions. 19659004] The app was still available to both iOS and Android late on Tuesday night, and on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook told NPR: "I haven't heard of it, but obviously we are looking into whether that is the case."
Apple and Google have different systems for flagging inappropriate apps, Apple prescreens apps, and Begum says Google trusts users to notify violations, but she says every company needs to increase the investigation of government-supported programs more, especially when created by repressive regimes.
"They should consider the human rights implications … especially when offered by a government," she said. "When considering whether to allow an app, providers should really assess the broader context or purpose of the app, how it is used in practice, and whether it facilitates abuse."
Apple and Google did not immediately return requests for comment to this story from Gizmodo and we will update if we hear back.
However, this is far from the only Saudi government activity that has invited backlash late. Its authoritarian monarchy is currently under de facto control of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has attempted to portray himself as a technically friendly reformer who is eager to modernize the country and build an economy that does not depend on oil.
During his tenure, the Empire has remained an American military ally that receives large shipments of weapons from the states, despite the prince's wide spread of disagreement and the practice of a brutal war in Yemen characterized by war crimes allegations. Last year, Saudi agents tortured and murdered journalist in self-imposed exile and posthumous Jamal Khashoggi in the post of the country's consulate in Istanbul, who exclaimed widespread extinction and convinced many technical companies to withdraw from a profiled investment conference.
Donald Trump's administration has responded by issuing glowing statements in support of the US-Saudi relationship, continuing to sell the nation's billions in weapons and suppressing Khashoggi's intelligence reports.