Apple CEO Tim Cook promises to investigate Saudi Arabian app that allows tracking of women

“An app that allows Saudi men to track the whereabouts of their wives and daughters is available in the Apple and Google app stores in Saudi Arabia. But the U.S. tech giants are getting blowback from human rights activists and lawmakers for carrying the app,” Laura Sydell reports for NPR. “The app, called Absher, was created by the National Information Center, which according to a Saudi government website is a project of the Saudi Ministry of Interior.”

Sydell reports, “This week, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., sent a letter to both companies asking them to remove the app. ‘Saudi men can also reportedly use Absher to receive real-time text message alerts every time these women enter or leave the country or to prevent these women from leaving the country,’ he wrote.”

“In an interview with NPR on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook was asked about Absher. ‘I haven’t heard about it,’ he said. ‘But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case,'” Sydell reports. “NPR also reached out to Google, but the company has not responded.”

MacDailyNews Take: Because Google was too busy tracking everybody.

“Rothna Begum, a senior researcher on women’s rights at Human Rights Watch… says she can see how the companies might not have realized initially that the app could be used for monitoring women. “It has other services that are quite generic and normal government services,” she says,'” Sydell reports. “Google and Apple need to push back against the Saudi government and either disable the app entirely or disable the features that enable men to track women in their families. ‘By not saying anything,’ she says, ‘they’ve allowed the government to facilitate the abuse.'”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As of publication, the Absher app is still available via Apple’s U.S. App Store and carries the rather innocuous description, in part, and in somewhat broken English: “Absher has been designed and developed with special consideration to security and privacy of user’s data and communication. So, you can safely browse your profile or your family members, or labors working for you, and perform a wide range of eServices online.”

So, it’s pretty easy to see how Apple could have missed the app’s implications during the approval process.

10 Comments

    1. I was thinking along the same lines, but with regard to “Find my Friends”. You can add anybody to your friends list, with their consent of course, and then see their whereabouts at any time or set alerts to tell you if they have arrived at or left a specified place. How is this app different to Find my Friends? Presumably the person being tracked would need to consent to be tracked via their device?

      My wife and I have each other on Find my Friends and it’s very reassuring to know where each other is or when to expect them home. Obviously it’s a feature which could potentially be abused or it could also reveal embarrassing information if somebody is not where they’re supposed to be, but when used correctly, it’s a great feature.

    1. Replying to my own question, now that I’ve gone back to read the actual appleInsider article:

      “Saudi Arabia has had a system in place to perform many of these actions for a number of years, but the existence of an app makes the process easier for male guardians to monitor and curtail the activities of women. “

      So men / heads-of-household are legally permitted to restrict dependents’ (male and female) travel into and out of the country, and have been able to for years. Presumably via a website or by picking up the phone and calling the state dept.

      Now there’s an app for that, and it’s a scandal?

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