Apple CEO vows scrutiny of Saudi 'women-tracking' app

Apple CEO Tim Cook vows scrutiny of Saudi 'women-tracking' app after uproar
3 min read
13 February, 2019
Apple CEO Tim Cook said his company will look at Saudi app Absher after US Senator and human rights groups call on Google and Apple to take down the application.
As of this week, the highly controversial app is still available on app stores [Getty]
Apple CEO Tim Cook had said his company will "take a look at" an apalling Saudi app that allows males to restrict the freedom of their female dependents, after US Senator calls for it to be taken down. 

US Senator Ron Wyden and human rights organisations earlier called on Google and Apple to take down from their platforms a Saudi application that allows male guardians to track and prevent female relatives from travelling.

"I am demanding that @Google and @Apple pull down apps that promote abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia," the Democrat from Oregon tweeted on Monday.

"American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy," Wyden said in a letter to Cook and Google CEO.

Cook said he hadn't heard about the controversy but "obviously we'll take a look at it if that's the case," when asked in an interview with NPR on Monday.

Apple and Google have not made an official comment or taken down the application. 

The app, called Absher ("Good Tidings" in Arabic), has been in operation by the kingdom’s interior ministry for a few years. It allows users to manage passports, vehicle registration and parking tickets but also has more sinister features that track women’s movement and restrict their ability to leave the country.

"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 movement,” the senator said in his letter.

Amnesty International called on Apple and Google to "mitigate the harm that the app has on women."

"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," the rights group told the Washington Post on Tuesday in a statement.

Adam Coogle told the Post that the app, which is used by 11 million people, "discriminates against women".

Investigate website Insider earlier this month ran a detailed report on the elaborate online system, which allows male guardians to register their wives, sisters and daughters as female 'dependents', restrict or permit international travel, and receive a notification whenever their 'dependents' attempt to cross the kingdom's international border.

Read more: Saudi reforms are meaningless as long as male guardianship persists

This is in-line with the kingdom's male guardianship system that severely restricts the ability of women to travel and conduct various routine tasks without the permission of their male relatives.

The application has garnered media attention following the high-profile case of Rahaf Mohammed, a Saudi teenager who fled the kingdom, finding asylum in Canada after a weeks' long limbo in Thailand.

Rahaf Mohammed's departure reflects what many are calling Saudi Arabia's own refugee crisis, in which 1,000 Saudi women attempt to flee the kingdom each year, according to figures quoted by experts to the Insider.

Saudi women told Insider that in order to seek asylum overseas they had to resort to steal the phones of their male guardians to disable the app or secretly give themselves permission to travel before fleeing the country.