Apple and Google urged to remove Saudi app that tracks women

Human rights defenders are calling on Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL) to remove the Saudi government app Absher from its platforms, saying that it allows Saudi men to track women under their sponsorship.

In a letter addressed to Apple's CEO Tim Cook and Google's CEO Sundar Pichai Monday, the top Democrat on the US Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, asked the tech giants to prevent their technical infrastructure and app stores from being used for enabling "abhorrent surveillance and control of women."

The Absher mobile app -- first available on iOS devices in 2015 and to Android devices in 2016 -- is a Saudi government e-portal where users can access an array of government services related to Hajj, visa, National ID, traffic violations, and health insurance among others, according to the Saudi Ministry of Interior.

Among those services is a feature for male guardians to decide whether their dependents can travel abroad and the parameters around their travel plans.

Under Saudi Arabia's restrictive guardianship laws, women cannot travel without permission from their male guardians. Critics argue that the Absher app is a technological extension of the repressive rules that restrict many aspects of everyday life for the country's female population. 

"It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable to facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy," Wyden said in his letter.

"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 movements. This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend," he said.

When asked about the fact that the Absher app lets Saudi men control the movements of their dependents, Cook told National Public Radio on Monday: "I haven't heard about it. But obviously we'll take a look at it if that's the case."

Read more at CNN.

Kate McCartywomen, technology