Saudi government’s eService app tracks and restricts women’s movement

Absher, the official app for eServices of the Saudi Ministry of Interior’s National Information Center in Saudi Arabia, allows men to track and restrict the movement of women. The application sends text messages to men when their wife or daughter tries to use their passport, and men can use it to alert airports in Saudi Arabia to catch a woman in case they are trying to travel without permission or flee Saudi Arabia. US Senator Ron Wyden sent an open letter to Apple and Google CEOs, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, urging them to ‘immediately remove from your app stores the Saudi government’s Absher app, which enables Saudi men to track and control the movements of Saudi women.’ Wyden asked them to prevent technical infrastructure, including app stores, from being used by the Saudi government to enable ‘abhorrent surveillance and control of women.’ Cook was not familiar with the case, but promised the company will look into it and consider next steps on Apple’s App Store. A spokesman for Google said the company has also started investigating the app hosted on Google Play Store in order to determine if it is in accordance with its policies.