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Google will keep Saudi 'woman control' app on Play Store

Google will keep Saudi 'woman control' app on Play Store

Absher, the Saudi government app which lets men track women and control where they travel, has attracted international controversy lately, and members of the US Congress have called upon Google and Apple to ban the app from their respective stores. Google, at least, refuses to do so.

Google reviewed the app and concluded that it does not violate any agreements that would lead it to be banned from the Play Store. Google informed the office of Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who, with 14 other members of Congress, wrote last week to demand the removal of Absher from the Google's store, calling Google "accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women".

absher app saudi arabia
Absher remains on Google Play. / © Google Play Store

Absher functions as a government admin app through which one can apply for jobs, pay fines, renew licenses and report crimes, but it has attracted criticism for a particularly repressive aspect: it allows Saudi men to track and control the movements of female dependents such as wives and daughters.

Response ''deeply unsatisfactory''

Rep. Speier told Business Insider, whose initial report on Absher sparked the outrage leading to the Congressional letter in the first place, "The responses received so far from Apple and Google are deeply unsatisfactory...facilitating the detention of women seeking asylum and fleeing abuse and control unequivocally causes harm. I will be following up on this issue with my colleagues."

Google Play's app developer terms of service state:

"We don't allow apps that promote violence, or incite hatred against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or any other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization."

Parsing carefully you can see that while Absher certainly does enable systemic discrimination or marginalization on the basis of gender, Google only strictly bans the apps that promote violence or incite hatred in this context. In leaving the app on the store, it seems that Google does not count restriction of freedoms as violence per se, even though it's easy to see how the threat of violence underpins restriction of movement in this case, not just from individuals, but from the state.

As for Apple? Tim Cook has pledged to investigate it, but there's still no word from Cupertino, and Absher remains up on the App Store.

What do you think about Google's stance? Are they being cowardly, or are there good reasons to host a tool of repression on the Play Store?

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3 comments

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  • Why is the reporting on this so shallow. In Saudi Arabia women must have written permission to leave the country and the documents must be presented to the government by the woman's father or her legal guardian (husband). It's often shameful for the guardian to go in person to sign the documents. Thus, few women are granted documents to leave the country.

    This app lets them do the paperwork without having to show up in person. It actually provides more freedom for women than it does harm.

    Now, as to Saudi law, that's just atrocious. But the app does more good in this one area than harm and those boneheads like Rep. Speier who make erroneous comments out of context and reporters that parrot them because they're too lazy to do the legwork should be ashamed.


  • This is where spoofing is called for - where are the hackers?


  • storm 9 months ago Link to comment

    Google should go back to the do no evil stance.

    Except once you're a publicly traded company, you will be sued by the shareholders if you do not act to always increase shareholder value. Thus their support of China and Saudi Arabia. You lose your ethics when you're a public company.

    Surveillance capitalism wins again.

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