Over the last few weeks, Google and Apple have been under fire for refusing to take down an application believed to violate human and women rights in Saudi Arabia. Absher application available both on Google’s Play store and Apple’s App store allows men in Saudi Arabia to monitor movement and activities by women.
The government-backed application is largely disguised as a platform that solely provides e-services to Saudi citizens. From Passport renewal, visa acquisition, Identity card application, job & travel permits among other government services.
However, the application does not work as easy as it sounds for women who have to seek permission from a man to acquire all these services. How the application functions is said to be permitted by the Kingdom’s male guardianship system under which women are treated as minors, giving the man the right to either grant or revoke permission just by the click of a button.
How it works
The Absher application allows men to register women’s names and passports numbers, after which they can control the number of trips she can make and for how long she is allowed to travel. Although not only travelling rights only, the man is able to decide whether or not the woman is legible to receive any government documents. The men, therefore, go ahead to activate live SMS feeds that keep track of any moves made by the woman through the application.
In a case where the woman manages to sneak out of the Saudi Arabia borders, their male counterparts work with government authorities to track down the woman who is then flown back to the country forcefully.
American tech companies Google and Apple have been accused of facilitating an antiquated patriarchal system in the country. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been on the forefront, demanding critical assessment of the app to determine whether it entrenches discrimination or facilitates abuse. Absher is said to be another example of how the Saudi Arabian government has produced tools to limit women’s freedom.
Both Google and Apple have ignored calls to take Absher down, as both companies claim to be ‘investigating’ the app. Before admitting to assess the application, Google said the application does not violate its terms as Apple’s Tim Cook went ahead to say he had not checked out the application, saying he would.
Saudi has also come to its defence saying that the app helps Saudi women avoid governmental bureaucracy as it allows male guardians to process their permits anywhere and anytime through the application.