Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company will look for an app that can be used to track and limit women’s travel freedom in Saudi Arabia. “I haven’t heard of it,” the CEO said in an interview with NPR. “But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case.” In addition to accessing government services such as applying for passports or birth certificates, Well-informed person found that the Absher app, also available on the Google Play store, allows male Saudi guardians to list “dependents” by name and passport number and then limit their ability to travel.
Apple and Google have been criticized for hosting the Absher app by human rights groups for facilitating human rights abuses. In the comments provided to the Washington PostAmnesty International said the app highlights the “disturbing system of discrimination” in the country, while a Human Rights Watch spokesperson joined their call for Apple and Google to investigate the app.
The app highlights a “disturbing discrimination system.”
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden went one step further in an open letter to Time Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, asking them to remove the app entirely from their app stores. In the letter, he said:
“When assessing whether an app should be allowed, app store providers should consider the broader context of the app’s purpose, how it is used in practice, and whether it facilitates serious abuse. Businesses should apply additional scrutiny to government-operated applications in particular. “
Under Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, Saudi Arabian women cannot travel without the permission of their male guardian, usually a relative. In addition to placing limits on their ability to travel, guardianship rules also prevent them from making other important decisions, such as getting married, or taking a job in a private company without the approval of a male guardian.
Absher’s platforms for individuals and businesses have more than 11 million users, according to the website of the Saudi Ministry of the Interior.