Calls to ban app that allows 'control of women' in Saudi Arabia

Screenshots of Saudi Arabia's Absher app as seen on iTunes. 

A Saudi Arabian government app that allows men in the country to monitor and control their female relatives' travel at the click of a button should be removed from Google and Apple's online stores, a US politician and activists said on Wednesday.

On both Apple and Google's app stores, the app preview states: "Absher has been designed and developed with special consideration to security and privacy of user's data and communication".

The app, which offers access to government services, has been criticised by human rights groups.

On Monday, US Senator Ron Wyden sent a letter the CEO's of both companies, requesting the app be immediately removed from the app stores as it "enables Saudi men to track and control the movements of Saudi women".

Women in Saudi Arabia have limited options in terms of where they're allowed to go and what they're allowed to do, but American companies shouldn't facilitate the kingdom's system of discriminating against half its population.

The number of times the app has been downloaded from Apple's store remains unknown.

An investigation from website Insider exposed how it was being used by male guardians to register wives, sisters and daughters to either restrict or permit global travel.

The Absher app makes the process a lot more convenient for Saudi men.

Sayde Scarlett, of Sanctions for Saudi, which campaigns from Britain on behalf of Arab women, said: "Google and Apple portray..."

Developed by the government of Saudi Arabia, Absher has been around for a while, but it only started making waves in western media after an article in ThisIsInsider highlighted one of its most controversial features - allowing male "guardians" to track and restrict women's movements via their smartphones.

Apple and Google did not respond to Business Insider's requests for comment.

Now Google and Apple are facing backlash for hosting the service on their app stores. This is another example of how the Saudi Arabian government has produced tools to limit women's freedoms.

Human Rights Watch's Rothna Begum told INSIDER: "Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate threats and harassment. What irony. In the West these technologies are used to improve lives and in Saudi Arabia they're used to enforce gender apartheid", ex-Muslim activist Yasmine Mohammed, added.

Both firms hosted Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman past year.

Now, Apple's CEO Tim Cook has pledged to get to the bottom of this issue.

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