Apple CEO Tim Cook said he was not aware of the Absher app, a Saudi government app that allows men to track female family members, but he will investigate. The app can even allow the males to prevent the females from traveling.
It follows Oregon Senator Ron Wyden writing to both Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai, calling on them to ‘immediately remove’ the app from their App Stores
A report from the beginning of the month by Insider, describes the app as “a huge, sinister online database of women that men use to track them and stop them from running away.”
Saudi law says every woman must have a male guardian, who has enormous power over her life and travel. The Saudi government has digitized parts of the guardian system, letting Saudi men manage women’s lives online […]
The Absher system — little-discussed in Western media — contains a log of women in Saudi Arabia and the means to bar them from travel or catch them trying to leave without permission […]
Vitally, Saudi men can also use this site to specify when and where women are allowed to fly out of the country and grant or revoke travel permission with a few clicks, rendering specific airports or destinations off-limits.
Men can also enable an automatic SMS feature, which texts them when a woman uses her passport at a border crossing or airport check-in.
Despite calls for the removal of the app from the App Store by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, neither Google or Apple responded to requests for comment. Cook finally responded when asked about the app during an interview on National Public Radio:
Cook spoke to National Public Radio (NPR) on Tuesday and was asked about Absher, a mostly-benign government app which has been criticised for features letting Saudi men control where women travel.
“I haven’t heard about it,” Cook told NPR. “But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case.”
The app has been download 4.2 million times from the App Store.