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Apple, Google face pressure to drop app used to track Saudi women

Tech giants accused of 'facilitating Saudi patriarchy'

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

Tech giants Apple and Google are facing pressure from rights groups and lawmakers to remove a Saudi-built app developed for tracking women from its platforms.

What are the details?

In 2015, the Saudi government launched an app called Absher, which loosely translates to "yes sir," according to the New York Times. Absher allows men to track women under the kingdom's laws requiring females, regardless of age, to have a male "guardian" in charge of their activities.

The app alerts male "guardians" to the movements of females, and allows users to revoke travel "privileges" of the women in their "care."

Absher is available for sale on Google Play, where is has been downloaded 5 million times and boasts a 4.6 out of 5 star rating with more than 28K reviews. It can also be purchased on the Apple App Store, where it's listed as a "productivity" tool and has been downloaded 4.2 million times, according to Apptopia.

Following a report on the app by The Insider, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both raised concern over the companies hosting Absher. Politicians then followed suit.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Monday, demanding they removed the Saudi app from their stores. Wyden scolded the companies for "making it easier for Saudi men to control their families from the convenience of their smartphones," telling Cook and Pichai, "This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend."

House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.) echoed the call for Absher to be dropped from Apple and Google, tweeting that the companies "must stop facilitating this dangerous tool of control," which she called "a patriarchal weapon."

Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for its treatment of women as second-class citizens. Just last year, the country lifted its ban on females driving cars.

What are Google and Apple saying?

According to Business Insider, Google and Apple are investigating whether Absher violates their policies.

Last year, Cook and Pichai both met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman during the Saudi Arabian leader's tour of Silicon Valley. The crown prince also visited with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and venture capitalists Marc Andreessen and Peter Theil.

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