Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Alphabet’s Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) are being harshly criticized for hosting an app that allows men in Saudi Arabia to track and control the movement of women. The app is called Absher and was created by the National Information Center, a project of the Saudi Ministry of Interior.
Absher can be used by Saudi citizens for a range of services, including registering a vehicle and getting a passport. Using the app, Saudi men can also limit the dates and places women are permitted to travel. Men using the app can receive text messages when their wife or daughter swipes a passport and can approve or disapprove leaving the country.
In Saudi Arabia, women’s lives are highly restricted. Women in the country must have permission from a male guardian to travel legally. In the past, paper forms were required prior to travel. They also need the approval of a guardian for marriage, employment with private companies, certain types of health care, and release from prison.
According to human rights advocates, the app facilitates Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal guardianship system. In a statement, Amnesty International said, “The use of the Absher app to curtail the movement of women once again highlights the disturbing system of discrimination against women under the guardianship system and the need for genuine human rights reforms in the country, rather than just social and economic reforms.”
Absher is available to download on both the Google Play store and Apple’s app store. According to the Google Play store, the app has been installed on devices more than 1 million times. Apple does not publish the number of downloads for apps.
Human rights groups are asking the tech giants to consider the abuse and discrimination the app could enable. Critics say the app can impede attempts by women to flee abusive home environments. Those who are caught trying to flee can face death at the hands of their family.