Apple and Google are taking heat from human rights advocates for offering a service that allows men in Saudi Arabia to track and control the whereabouts of their wives and daughters.
Absher, which Saudi citizens can access on their web browsers or on their smartphones through the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, is an e-government service at its core — and with some useful and legitimate functions. The app offers Saudis a one-stop shop for tasks such as paying parking tickets and renewing driver’s licenses. But Saudi men also use Absher to register their dependents as part of the kingdom’s repressive “guardianship” system, which forces women to seek permission from male relatives before they exercise a number of what should be human freedoms, including getting married, enrolling in school and traveling outside the country.
Apple and Google have both pledged to review the service. The companies cannot end Saudi Arabia’s sexist system. They cannot even end Absher; if they removed the app from their stores, it would continue to exist on its dedicated government website. But they can refuse to facilitate state-approved discrimination.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE WASHINGTON POST