Google and Apple Urged to Remove “Absher” App That Lets Saudi Men Track and Prevent Wives’ Travel; Sends SMS Alerts on Movement


SILICON VALLEY – Google is reportedly refusing to remove a feature in the company’s app store allowing Saudi men to track the whereabouts of women, according to online outlet Insider.

Google reviewed the Absher app and concluded it does not violate the company’s agreements, the report noted Saturday. Google communicated its decision to Democratic California Rep. Jackie Speier, who is demanding the company ding the feature. Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan joined their California colleague to ask Apple and Google to remove the app.

Saudis can use the app to interact with the state — but it also allows Saudi men to grant and rescind travel permission for women, and pings men when women leave the country. Neither Apple nor Google have responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about whether either company is preparing to change policies to disallow similar apps in the future.

“The responses received so far from Apple and Google are deeply unsatisfactory,” Speier told reporters. “As of today, the Absher app remains available in both the Apple App store and the Google Play Store even though they can easily remove it.”

Allowing people continued access to the app only perpetuates more harm to women trying to flee brutal regimes, she said.

Speier added: “Facilitating the detention of women seeking asylum and fleeing abuse and control unequivocally causes harm. I will be following up on this issue with my colleagues.”

New of the Absher app comes less than three months after reports showed Google launched an application in November 2018 allowing citizens to report what they consider instances of blasphemy to the Indonesian government. People found guilty of such laws face a maximum of five years in prison.

The so-called Smart Pakem app was created through the Google Play platform and allows users to report “deviant” religious ideas directly to Indonesian authorities. The country’s anti-blasphemy laws target “those who disgrace a religion” or who otherwise express “hostility” to religion.

Dozens of Google employees signed a letter in November 2018 calling on the company to scrap involvement in a controversial program called Project Dragonfly, a Chinese search product that enables the government to censor search results in real-time. They also called for whistleblowers to receive more protections.

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