Google joins Apple in probing Saudi app that lets men control where women travel, as pressure piles on the tech giants to kill the service
- Google has joined Apple in promising to investigate a controversial Saudi government app hosted on Google Play Store.
- Business Insider's sister website INSIDER revealed that Absher is a mostly benign app to manage day-to-day tasks, but is also the place where men control where women travel.
- Google will review the app to determine if it is in line with its policies, according to a New York Times report on Wednesday. It follows Apple CEO Tim Cook pledging to investigate.
- House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark called the app a "patriarchal weapon" on Wednesday. Other US politicians also called on Apple and Google to axe the app.
- Apple and Google have not responded to INSIDER's repeated requests for comment.
Google has joined Apple in promising to investigate a Saudi app that lets men control women's travel, as pressure from rights groups and international lawmakers builds on the tech giants.
Google and Apple have failed to respond to repeated requests for comment from Business Insider.
BI's sister website INSIDER revealed details about Absher earlier this month, and published criticism from human rights groups, which triggered US politicians to call on the tech giants to rethink the app.
A number of high-profile US politicians condemned Apple and Google on Wednesday. They called on the tech giants to kill the service from their app stores.
Democratic Party Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark, from Massachusetts' 5th district, tweeted: "Absher is a patriarchal weapon: it allows Saudi men to track women, restrict their travel, and enable human rights violations.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, representing New York's 12th district, tweeted: "An app available on Google/Apple's App store helps Saudi Arabia enforce its guardianship system that doesn't allow women to travel without permission from a male guardian. No company should help w/ oppression of women!"
Maloney also encouraged the hashtag "#DropTheAPP."
On Tuesday, US Senator Ron Wyden wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai demanding they "immediately remove" Absher from the App Store and Google Play.
The app "flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend," Wyden wrote. "American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy," he said, calling the Saudi system of control over women "abhorrent."
Yasmine Mohammed, an ex-Muslim activist who campaigns and writes on women's rights, said: "There's a definite tragedy in the world's most technologically progressive platforms, Apple and Google, facilitating the most archaic misogyny."
European and Australian lawmakers pile on
Dutch MP Kees Verhoeven tweeted: "Apple and Google offer the Saudi government app Absher, which limits the freedom of women to travel." He added it was right for Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to "call the tech giants to reconsider offering them!"
Australian Senator Eric Abetz published a detailed press release condemning Google and Apple for hosting the app. "This app is being used as a tool of oppression and to restrict the free movement of people in Saudi Arabia," the release said.
The UK government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) would not condemn the app directly, but said it wants to see an end to the guardianship system in Saudi Arabia, which the app encourages
An FCO spokesperson said: "We continue to call for an end to the guardianship system to allow women to fully participate in Saudi society."
Addressing the specific travel function on Absher, Renate Künast, chairwoman of Germany's Alliance '90/The Greens party, tweeted: "Why do @Apple & @Google condone this? @GoogleDE Are you campaigning against it?"
Concerning the app's travel permissions function, Nate Schenkkan, the director for special research at Freedom House tweeted that "technology can be used to reinforce oppressive social structures."
The app raises awkward questions for Apple and Google, two of the biggest players in Silicon Valley, where tech firms have well-established links to Saudi Arabia.
Both firms hosted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last year.The crown prince got a rare tour inside the $5 billion Apple Park campus, in California, which included face time with Cook and other top executives.
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