Activist groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have spoken out against Apple and Google, for hosting a Saudi Government app, called Absher, that permits the Saudi men to control and decide where the women can travel. As per the complaints of rights groups, Absher promotes discrimination against women and is enforcing ‘gender apartheid’ in Saudi Arabia. This is why they want Apple and Google to consider ‘rehosting’ the app, reports INSIDER.
“We call on these companies to assess the risk of human rights abuses and mitigate the harm that these apps may have on women. This is another example of how the Saudi Arabian government has produced tools to limit women’s freedoms”, said Dana Ahmed, Saudi Arabia researcher for Amnesty International.
Absher app is based on Saudi “guardian” law, according to which, every woman has a legal “guardian” to whom she remains legally dependent for many aspects of life, irrespective of her age, education level or marital status. This male guardian could be her father, uncle, husband, brother, or son, who offers his consent to a variety of basic needs of a woman such as education, clothing, work, money, travel, marriage, etc.
Absher comes with a set of features aimed to restrict women’s travel to specific airports and routes, making sure that in case the woman decides to flee from the country without permission, she can get instantly caught. This is because it comes with an automatic SMS feature that is sent to a woman’s ‘guardian’ for times she crosses borders or makes airport check-ins without permission. 1,000 women try to flee away from Saudi Arabia each year, and text alerts make it very difficult for these women to flee with most of them getting caught by their family members.
The SMS alerts were made compulsory in 2012, however, it received a heavy backlash by the Saudis on social media. This later led to the Saudi Government suspending the SMS alerts in 2014, however, the rights groups believe that the system is still in function.
According to Amnesty International, the automated SMS alerts are “another example of how the Saudi Arabian government has produced tools to limit women’s freedoms”.
Men can also specify the destinations that the women are allowed to travel along with time period for the travel on Absher. Although there are other basic and harmless features in Absher that allows you to pay parking fines, or renew a driver’s license, it is mostly used to keep a tight leash on Saudi women.
What’s even more distressing is the fact that Absher app has been downloaded more than 1 million times on Android devices. Rothna Begum, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch told INSIDER, that “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.” Apple and Google haven’t responded to the news yet.
Public reaction to this news is largely negative with the majority of the people condemning the app and its widespread use in Saudi Arabia:
Is Absher app available in the app store in the US? Would be a shame if someone disassembled it and it was found "wanting" in the security dept. I mean, what would happen if the service went down suddenly. Millions of women suddenly no longer slaves to a vicious regime.
— SHADOWOPS | 🍥 (@Shadow0pz) February 11, 2019
@apple generally has a good record in respecting #privacy and #humanrights. This is a distressing aberration. I would expect it to be against the terms of the App Store but has slipped through. Looking forward to @tim_cook taking action or for @UNHumanright taking a stand.
— The Mood Therapist 🥃 (@MustacheofDeath) February 12, 2019
Very very sad and angry to learn this…
— Jules Fell (@JuliaFelly) February 11, 2019
— Sanctions For Saudi (@SanctionSaudi) February 11, 2019
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