Apple and Google have been accused of helping to ‘enforce gender apartheid’ in Saudi Arabia, by offering a sinister app which allows men to track women and stop them leaving the country.
Both Google Play and iTunes host Absher, a government web service which allows men to specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders, and to get close to real-time SMS updates when they travel. The app can provide detailed information for male guardians to say where women can go, how long for, and which airports they can go to.
Absher also has benign functions, like paying parking fines, but its travel features have been identified by activists and refugees as a major factor in the continued difficulty women have leaving Saudi Arabia.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both expressed concern about Google and Apple’s role in hosting the app. According to the Google Play store, Absher has been downloaded on Android devices more than 1 million times. Apple has not disclosed download figures for apps.
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