Google (GOOGL) and Apple (AAPL) have been the focus of several human rights defenders, calling to abolish the Saudi government app “Absher” from its platforms. This is after several
Recently, a letter was addressed to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook and Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai On Monday from the top Democrat on the US Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon asked the tech giants to prevent their app stores from administering “abhorrent surveillance and control of women.”
The Absher mobile app was first available on iOS Devices in 2015, then, later on, reached Android in 2016. According to the Saudi Ministry of Interior, this app belongs to the Saudi government e-porta,l where users can access a wide range of government services related to Hajj (annual Islamic pilgrimage,) visa, national ID, Traffic violations, and health insurance among others.
The only unlikely thing among the services offered by this app is a feature for male guardians to decide whether their dependents can travel abroad and limitations about their travel plans. Under Saudi Arabia’s repressive guardianship laws, women cannot travel without any permission from their male guardians.
With the rise of complaints from critics who argue that the Absher app is a technological extension of the restrictive rules that repress many aspects of everyday living for the country’s female population.
“IT is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable to facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy,” Wdyen expressed in his letter.
Wyden also added in writings that Google and Apple are making it easier for Saudi men to have control over their family members from the convenience of smartphones and restrict their movements.
When Cook was asked about the repressive app, he responded through National Public Radio on Monday that he had not heard about the issue. However, he assured everyone that the company will take necessary actions.
However, Apple has not responded to CNN‘s request for comment.
Amnesty Intenational has also called the attention of Apple and Google to “assess the risk of human rights abuses caused by the app and mitigate the harm it has inflict on women.” An amnesty representative informed the public that the app curtails the movement of women and highlights discrimination against females under the guardianship system.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior later responded to the criticism which spans across the country by issuing a statement saying that the application represents electronic government services, which is an essential and direct means for the beneficiaries to access to the services anytime and from anywhere. It also condemned the campaign aimed at questioning the purpose of (Absher) services.
Rothna Begum, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch told CNN that Apple and Google should consider the way that the app is being used and praticed. She emphasized that the tech giants already have rules about apps that facilitate threats and harassment.
The Absher app is designed for smart devices which aims to raise the level of service, besides harnessing its potentials to provide new value-added services, since smart applications are the future platform for implementation of e-services. With all the good features the app has, what Google and Apple can do now is to suggest a request to the Saudi government to remove the guardianship functionality from the app.