Published: Wed, February 13, 2019

Apple to investigate Saudi app

Apple to investigate Saudi app

"But obviously we'll take a look at it if that's the case".

Apple CEO Tim Cook told US public radio NPR yesterday that he had not heard of Absher but pledged to "take a look at it".

Absher is a Saudi government app for users to conduct municipal business, such as paying traffic fines.

This is because these Saudi individuals are assigned a male "guardian" by law, who can control when and how often they can take certain routes. Among the app's main features is an alert system that sends text messages to a man when their wife or daughter tries to use their passport, making it easier to catch women trying to flee the country's restrictive regime.

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. According to Apple Insider, Human Rights Watch has requested the companies ask the government to remove the guardianship option and update the app.

Google and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Saudi Arabia, one of the world's most gender-segregated nations, is ranked 138 of 144 states in the 2017 Global Gender Gap, a World Economic Forum study on how women fare in economic and political participation, health and education. The companies have faced some backlash over these policies, particularly around how they might impact small businesses. Therefore, multiple experts have criticized Google and Apple for hosting its apps on their platforms.

Apple and Google have different systems for flagging inappropriate apps. "When they're evaluating whether an app should be allowed. providers really should consider the broader context or the goal of the app, how it's being used in practice and whether it's facilitating abuse". They can then decide how many trips women can take, how long women can travel for, and whether to cancel a woman's permission to travel.

Earlier this month, the Absher app from the Saudi government on the App Store came under scrutiny after it was discovered that it was used by Saudi males to track their female family members. "By not saying anything", she says, "they've allowed the government to facilitate the abuse".

"It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy", Wyden said in the letter addressed to Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, and Google's CEO Sundar Pichai.

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