Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote an open letter to Google and Apple, Monday, demanding that the Big Tech Masters of the Universe stop hosting a Saudi Arabian app which allows men to track women’s movements and stop them from leaving the country.
Addressing his letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Wyden declared, “I write to ask that you immediately remove from your app stores the Saudi government’s Absher app, which enables Saudi men to track and control the movements of Saudi women.”
The text of the letter reads:
The Saudi Ministry of Interior’s National Information Center operates Absher, an online e-portal through which Saudi citizens can interact with their government. However, according to media reports, Saudi men can also use Absher to surveil and track women under their “guardianship,” such as their wives and unmarried daughters.
Saudi men can also reportedly use Absher to receive real-time text message alerts every time these women enter or leave the country or to prevent these women from leaving the country.
It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy. By permitting the app in your respective stores, your companies are making it easier for Saudi men to control their family members from the convenience of their smartphones and restrict their movement.
This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend.
To that end, I ask that you take immediate action to prevent your technical infrastructure, including your app stores, from being used by the Saudi government to enable the abhorrent surveillance and control of women. Your employees and your customers expect better, as do millions and millions of Americans who support America’s promotion of basic rights and dignity around the world.
United States Senator
Last week, it was reported that both Apple and Google were hosting the “Absher” app, which, according to Insider, is “a government web service which allows men to specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders, and to get close to real-time SMS updates when they travel.”
The app reportedly notifies men “when a woman uses her passport at a border crossing or airport check-in,” and lets male owners “decide how many journeys a woman can take,” and “how long” a “woman can travel for.”
Google and Apple were both condemned by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for hosting Absher.
“Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate threats and harassment… Apps like this one can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women,” declared Human Rights Watch, while Amnesty International claimed the app was “another example of how the Saudi Arabian government has produced tools to limit women’s freedoms.”
Following questions from NPR, Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised to “take a look” at the app. Google did not reply to the same questions.