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US Senator and rights groups call on Google and Apple to remove Saudi tracking app

Absher gives Saudi men the ability to track movement of female relatives
Saudi Arabia's interior ministry said 11 million people use the Absher app (AFP)

US Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, and a number of human rights groups have asked Google and Apple to take down an app that tracks Saudi Arabian wives, sisters and daughters.

“I am demanding that Google and Apple pull down apps that promote abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia,” Wyden said on Twitter.

The app, called Absher, helps users navigate passports, birth certificates and vehicle registration through the kingdom’s interior ministry. But it also tracks women, particularly wives, sisters and daughters, on whether they’re leaving the country and it allows restrictions on when they can leave on certain dates.

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“We call on Apple and Google to assess the risk of human rights abuses on women, which is facilitated by the app, and mitigate the harm that the app has on women,” Amnesty International told the Washington Post on Tuesday in a statement.

“The use of the Absher app to curtail the movement of women once again highlights the disturbing system of discrimination against women under the guardianship system and the need for genuine human rights reforms in the country, rather than just social and economic reforms,” Amnesty added.

Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Post that the app is used to “discriminate against women”.

Coogle called on Google to push Saudi Arabia “to change the laws and change the app”.

Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry said 11 million people use the app and Google has said it has been downloaded one million times from their store. The number of times the app has been downloaded from Apple’s store remains unknown.

Both Google and Apple have yet to comment on whether they plan to remove the app from their respective stores.