Apple And Google Under Fire For Allowing ‘Women-Monitoring’ App In Saudi Arabia

A stock photo of a person holding an Apple iPhone.
Jan Vašek / Pixabay

Big Brother has seemed to have found root in Saudi Arabia in the form of a government-approved app that tracks the activities of women. The app, called Absher, roughly translates to “yes, sir” and reportedly allows men to have invasive control on the whereabouts of their female relatives.

After two more women have spoken about the draconian practice, tech giants Google and Apple are receiving heat for allowing such an app to exist on their platforms, per The Guardian.

Maha and Wafa al-Subaie are two Saudi sisters who fled to the country of Georgia. Since their escape, they have publicly called on Silicon Valley to help de-platform the “inhuman” app.

“It gives men control over women. They have to remove it.”

In Saudi Arabia, women’s rights are extremely restricted, and women need permission from a male relative to work, marry, and travel.

Absher works by allowing men to dictate when and where women can travel, see flight logs, or even revoke travel altogether. They can also receive text alerts when a passport of a female relative has been used. Since the app is government-based, it is logged into an official system.

In order for the al-Subaie sisters to flee, they had to steal their father’s phone so that he could not access the app. The sisters have added that they know “dozens” of other women who are trapped, often in abusive families, who are trying to escape.

As reported by Insider, the monitoring service had received criticism from Congress, where 14 congressmen, including Jackie Speier and Ilhan Omar, drafted a letter demanding answers from Apple and Google.

“Keeping this application in your stores allows your companies and your American employees to be accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers.”

The letter requested a response by February 28. Apple has yet to respond; Google replied that the app did not violate their terms of service and therefore can stay on its app marketplace, Google Play.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden also wrote a letter to the tech giants, receiving criticism from a viral Saudi campaign.

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The calls for action from victims like Maha and Wafa are also being noticed by the United Nations. On Wednesday, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet made a statement about the issue.

“Technology can, and should, be all about progress,” Bachelet said. “But the hugely invasive powers that are being unleashed may do incalculable damage if there are not sufficient checks in place to respect human rights.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has slowly been introducing reforms for women, such as lifting the driving ban. In addition, he has suggested a possibility of ending the guardianship system.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  Nicolas Asfouri / Getty Images

However, little has been heard of the issue since, and women are growing more and more pessimistic about the possibility of reform.