Apple & Google accused of supporting 'gender apartheid' by hosting Saudi woman-tracking ap...

Posted:
in iOS edited February 8
Apple's decision to allow an app made by the government of Saudi Arabia for the purpose of monitoring how women travel and effectively prevent them from leaving the country illegally has been criticized by a number of human rights organizations, for seemingly helping to "enforce gender apartheid" in the country.




Listed in the App Store, as well as in Google Play for the Android version, the Absher app is one that allows individuals to use the Saudi Arabian government's web service. While it can be used for multiple actions, including fairly normal activities such as paying parking fines, the app's ability for men to monitor and dictate the travel plans of women has caught the attention of critics.

Under Saudi law, the rights of women are curtailed compared to men, and must have a nominated male guardian who can exercise considerable control over their life. In the app, ThisIsInsider reports male guardians are able to dictate how many journeys a woman can take, how long they can travel for, which airports can be used, and to cancel permissions to travel at will.

There is also the ability to effectively track the movements of women in travel, with text alerts able to inform when a passport is used.

Saudi Arabia has had a system in place to perform many of these actions for a number of years, but the existence of an app makes the process easier for male guardians to monitor and curtail the activities of women.

Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concern about the decision of Apple and Google to host the app in their app stores, and for enabling the discrimination of women in the country.

"Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate threats and harassment," Human Rights Watch researcher Rothna Begum advised. "Apps like this one can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women.

Begum calls for app store providers to "consider the broader context of the purpose of the app, how it is used in practice, and whether it facilitates serious abuses," with extra scrutiny needed for government-operated apps. "The government could simply remove the guardianship tracking functionality from the app and continue to offer the rest of the functionality," the researcher notes, adding that Human Rights Watch is fine with governments offering services through apps, "just not services that facilitate abuses."

Amnesty International researcher Dana Ahmed calls on the two tech giants to "assess the risk of human rights abuses and mitigate harm that these apps may have on women. This is another example of how the Saudi Arabian government has produced tools to limit women's freedoms."

It is unknown how many times the app has been downloaded in the App Store, but at the time of publication, it has 536 ratings giving it an overall score of 3.9 out of 5. On Google Play, the Android version of the app is reported to have been downloaded over a million times, and has been given over 27 thousand ratings with an even higher average of 4.6 out of 5.

Apple has yet to publicly comment on the matter, but the company is noted as an outspoken supporter of human rights, including those concerning gender and race. While it has repeatedly shut down attempts to set up a human rights committee, the iPhone maker performs numerous audits of itself and its suppliers on a regular basis, which has led to the creation of programs to improve the wellbeing of its contractor's staff.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 61
    Apple as well as most (Western) mega corporations need to stop enabling oppressors by giving them the tools treat half of those counties population as property. We are all humans, we are born with rights and they should all be the same no matter your gender, race....etc. Unfortunately capitalist greed is spineless when standing up for what is really important. 
    gutengeltmayanantksundaramminicoffeeiqatedomuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 2 of 61
    So disturbing. Even if one says "Well, it's the law of the land there", it poses problems -- what if slavery were legal, would these companies still enable the law of the land?
    anantksundarampatchythepiratesvanstrommuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 3 of 61
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,690member
    Apple definitely shouldn’t have this app.  Now that it’s public that they do, we can hope that they will swiftly remove it from the store. They should also prevent the ones that are already out from working.

    both Apple and Google need much stricter guidelines, and need to more rigorously police their stores. I know that Google’s attitude has always been to turn away from what’s in there as they were trying to increase the apps to meet Apple’s numbers. But that race is long over. Google now needs to do whatever it can to stop malicious apps of any kind. Apple needs to step its own wfforts up.
    anantksundarampatchythepirateiqatedomuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 4 of 61
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,690member
    spice-boy said:
    Apple as well as most (Western) mega corporations need to stop enabling oppressors by giving them the tools treat half of those counties population as property. We are all humans, we are born with rights and they should all be the same no matter your gender, race....etc. Unfortunately capitalist greed is spineless when standing up for what is really important. 
    Oh, please. You think socialist countries are devoid of graft and corruption? They are the worst.
    edited February 8 designrablambertAppleExposedentropyspatchythepiratemacseekerchristophb
  • Reply 5 of 61
    What we say won’t change who and what Saudi Arabia is...

    Trying to impose our values (and change) through restricting apps isn’t going to work.

    Change has to come at a national level.  Being the #1 arms dealer to the world makes us an accessory...

    Supporting the “lesser evil” isn’t something I can support.
    iqatedowatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 61
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,118member
    spice-boy said:
    Apple as well as most (Western) mega corporations need to stop enabling oppressors by giving them the tools treat half of those counties population as property. We are all humans, we are born with rights and they should all be the same no matter your gender, race....etc. Unfortunately capitalist greed is spineless when standing up for what is really important. 
    Sadly, these are far more nuanced discussions than simple talking points like "We are all humans", "capitalist greed is spineless" and "most (Western) mega corporations need to stop enabling oppressors" tropes.

    There is a fine line everyone has to draw from tyrannically forcing their views of morality on different cultures and standing up for true oppressiveness. Would I want to live in 
    Saudi Arabia? Nope. Not a chance. Do I feel qualified to judge an entire culture with broad (and in may view, simplistic) statements like: "Apple as well as most (Western) mega corporations need to stop enabling oppressors by giving them the tools treat half of those counties population as property. We are all humans, we are born with rights and they should all be the same no matter your gender, race....etc. Unfortunately capitalist greed is spineless when standing up for what is really important. "  Not even close.
    designrwatto_cobracommand_f
  • Reply 7 of 61
    jcs2305jcs2305 Posts: 738member
    melgross said:
    Apple definitely shouldn’t have this app.  Now that it’s public that they do, we can hope that they will swiftly remove it from the store. They should also prevent the ones that are already out from working.

    both Apple and Google need much stricter guidelines, and need to more rigorously police their stores. I know that Google’s attitude has always been to turn away from what’s in there as they were trying to increase the apps to meet Apple’s numbers. But that race is long over. Google now needs to do whatever it can to stop malicious apps of any kind. Apple needs to step its own wfforts up.
    No they definitely should not have this app! I honestly can't believe that this would be allowed in the App store.  A gun emoji was changed or removed because a court decided it could constitute a death threat depending on how it was used...


    but an app that allows you to track a women's every travel move by their assigned male guardian is ok?  That doesn't sit right with me..

    Under Saudi law, the rights of women are curtailed compared to men, and must have a nominated male guardian who can exercise considerable control over their life. In the app, ThisIsInsider reports male guardians are able to dictate how many journeys a woman can take, how long they can travel for, which airports can be used, and to cancel permissions to travel at will.



    edited February 8 anantksundarampatchythepiratesvanstrom
  • Reply 8 of 61
    payecopayeco Posts: 301member
    steven n. said:

    There is a fine line everyone has to draw from tyrannically forcing their views of morality on different cultures and standing up for true oppressiveness.
    Surely you must agree though that are some fundamental rights that every human inherently has?
    montrosemacsanantksundaramsvanstrom
  • Reply 9 of 61
    melgross said:
    spice-boy said:
    Apple as well as most (Western) mega corporations need to stop enabling oppressors by giving them the tools treat half of those counties population as property. We are all humans, we are born with rights and they should all be the same no matter your gender, race....etc. Unfortunately capitalist greed is spineless when standing up for what is really important. 
    Oh, please. You think socialist countries are devoid of graft and corruption? They are the worst.
    Care to back that assertion up with facts or data? I'm of the opinion human greed & corruption isn't limited to political dogma. 
    anantksundaramsvanstrom
  • Reply 10 of 61
    uraharaurahara Posts: 229member
    I am a bit confused. 
    Does the app provides all those functions to cotrol women? Also the app can track if the passort was used? 

  • Reply 11 of 61
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,118member
    melgross said:
    Apple definitely shouldn’t have this app.  Now that it’s public that they do, we can hope that they will swiftly remove it from the store. They should also prevent the ones that are already out from working.

    both Apple and Google need much stricter guidelines, and need to more rigorously police their stores. I know that Google’s attitude has always been to turn away from what’s in there as they were trying to increase the apps to meet Apple’s numbers. But that race is long over. Google now needs to do whatever it can to stop malicious apps of any kind. Apple needs to step its own wfforts up.
    Mel,

    I have always enjoyed your posts but I think this is more detailed than the simple "They should have the app". Given this app is little more than a wrapper on existing data on the Saudi government web site, is the logical conclusion Apple's Safari should filter out the specific pages allowing this tracking? Or is that against Net Neutrality? 

    While I find many (most?) of the restrictions Saudi places on its citizens (both men and women) oppressive, the US has 714,300% more simple burglaries, 5,600% higher opiate drug usage and 450% higher murder rate when compared to Saudi Arabia. NOTE: The "," is being used as a group separator and not a decimal point.

    Is it safety by the point of a gun? In my view, yes. In theirs? I don't know. Is it better to walk away from the table so we have 0 influence to slowly change the regime or do you stay at the table so you can at least carry on a conversation? Personally, I believe it is the second option.
    avon b7watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 61
    lmaclmac Posts: 187member
    Apple does take moral positions on issues, such as LGBTQ rights, gun control, privacy protection, freedom of speech, so the argument that they shouldn't take a position on a particular issue is invalid. However, they also want to sell products in countries with what we might consider repressive regimes, so they do need to strike a balance. I would say this app is over the line, but if I was a Saudi woman trying to get out of the country, good advice would be to leave the phone behind.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 61
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,118member
    melgross said:
    spice-boy said:
    Apple as well as most (Western) mega corporations need to stop enabling oppressors by giving them the tools treat half of those counties population as property. We are all humans, we are born with rights and they should all be the same no matter your gender, race....etc. Unfortunately capitalist greed is spineless when standing up for what is really important. 
    Oh, please. You think socialist countries are devoid of graft and corruption? They are the worst.
    Care to back that assertion up with facts or data? I'm of the opinion human greed & corruption isn't limited to political dogma. 
    Venezuela? North Korea? The simple fact human greed and corruption isn't limited to political dogma is the exact reason placing all the power into a centrally controlled state always seems to end oppression and human atrocities. It becomes easy to justify sacrificing the sanctity of the individual to allow for a "greater good". Stalin and Chairman Mao happily killed 10's of millions in the quest for their politically correct society.
    entropyswatto_cobramacseeker
  • Reply 14 of 61
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,084member
    So are any of you going to stop purchasing Apple or Google products in protest until they remove this app? Lots of blabbering about capitalist greed, human rights, morality, etc. What about action? You want Apple to pull this app and possibly suffer the wrath of the Saudi government? Are you willing to give up your smartphone and Google Docs over it if Apple and Google don’t remove this app? Talk is cheap.
    edited February 8 steven n.watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 61

    It should be pointed out that since removing the app doesn’t affect the law, removing it will almost assuredly make traveling harder for women (since the app now presumably makes it way easier for men to approve travel compared to the old method). 

    I’d hope that Apple would actually talk with Saudi women and get their take on it, to determine what course of action has the least impact on human rights. 

    steven n.bonobobdanhlostkiwiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 61
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,118member
    payeco said:
    steven n. said:

    There is a fine line everyone has to draw from tyrannically forcing their views of morality on different cultures and standing up for true oppressiveness.
    Surely you must agree though that are some fundamental rights that every human inherently has?
    Being raised in a western culture, it is easy for me to fall back on "life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" written by T. Jefferson (a slave owner). I personally, feel Saudi Arabia is weak on the "liberty" front and place an over emphasis on sanctity. This extends to all citizens from men and women though it impacts women more than men.

    However, if you extend "liberty" to include safe movement of society so long as you stay within sanctity of society (taking liberty as a theological meaning "being free from sin") then Saudi looks at Western culture as corrupt and weak on liberty.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 61
    steven n.steven n. Posts: 1,118member
    lmac said:
    Apple does take moral positions on issues, such as LGBTQ rights, gun control, privacy protection, freedom of speech, so the argument that they shouldn't take a position on a particular issue is invalid. However, they also want to sell products in countries with what we might consider repressive regimes, so they do need to strike a balance. I would say this app is over the line, but if I was a Saudi woman trying to get out of the country, good advice would be to leave the phone behind.
    But they also move servers into counties like Russia and China (even handing control of the servers to local companies under government control) to abide by local laws. As I said, these are complex issues.
    edited February 8
  • Reply 18 of 61
    larryjwlarryjw Posts: 374member
    Apple will need to force companies to disaggregate privacy settings which apps must conform to to allow users to decide what privacies they are willing to give up and what privacies users want to retain. 

    The default disaggregation must be built into the OS and part of the default contract which developers need to sign -- like the EULA contracts.
  • Reply 19 of 61
    An app designed to track you doesn’t work if you don’t carry a phone. This is just ridiculously paranoid.
  • Reply 20 of 61
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 2,160member
    urahara said:
    I am a bit confused. 
    Does the app provides all those functions to cotrol women? Also the app can track if the passort was used? 

    The app provides all kinds of options for services through the Saudi government like paying parking fines. If you read the article that was cited, it shows so called male guardians can approve when, where, how long, etc a woman can travel for on the desktop version of Absher. Her passport is entered into the system. I imagine when the passport is scanned at an airport, that's when the app will give you a text/notification alert. I assume since this is a government app, its all tied in together when passports of women are scanned. 
    watto_cobra
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