Google Isn’t Taking Down App That Allows Saudi Men to Track Saudi Women Abroad

Company: App doesn’t violate any of its rules for users

A Saudi Ministry employee stands in front of a screen displaying the Absher mobile app logo, Riyadh, February 19, 2019.
AFP

The exposure of the Saudi Arabian government’s Absher app, which allows Saudi men to control and monitor travel by Saudi women abroad, has set off a global outcry – but not loud enough to make Google remove it from its android app shop.

The government app provides services to Saudi citizens as well as foreigners, such as the ability to extend a visa. But criticism arose when it was discovered that the app also gives Saudi men the ability to deny a woman’s exit from the country and to receive a text message whenever her passport gets stamped.

Since the app is downloadable from Apple and Google, it was anticipated that these companies might take steps to remove it, but that hasn’t happened.

Google has said it does not intend to remove the app from Google Play as it was not in violation of any user rules, or so it has informed the offices of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, who queried Google about the issue. Speier has expressed her disappointment at the response, saying she hopes that Apple – which has not yet responded – may take a different approach.

The technological-gender scandal comes amid the many contradictions in Saudi society under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Alongside some breakthroughs in civil rights, such as permitting women to drive unescorted by a man for the first time in 40 years, there are reports of the recent arrest and torture of a Saudi-American physician and the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi’s murder has led to a number of diplomatic boycotts and calls for boycotts, the latest by Canada, which is considering the cancellation of a $13 billion weapons deal with the Saudis.