Apple's Tim Cook will 'take a look' at controversial Saudi app used to track women

Posted:
in iPhone edited February 13
Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised his company will "take a look" at Absher, a Saudi government app with a feature letting men control the travel of their wives and daughters.

Apple CEO Tim Cook meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, on the right.
Apple CEO Tim Cook meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, on the right.


"I haven't heard about it," Cook said in an NPR interview on Tuesday. "But obviously we'll take a look at it if that's the case."

Apple and Google have come under increasing pressure to do something about the app. While it has innocent purposes such as paying parking tickets, it can be used to monitor and limit the travel of women under a man's guardianship. Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concern.

The matter intensified on Tuesday when Oregon Senator Ron Wyden issued a letter to Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, calling on the two to take action and kick the app out of their respective app stores. In theory the Saudi government could simply remove the tracking features and resubmit, but the country is notoriously resistant to outside pressure on its social policies, which are based on a version of Islam that even many other Muslim countries see as too strict.

"It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy," Wyden wrote. "By permitting the app in your respective stores, your companies are making it easier for Saudi men to control their family members from the convenience of their smartphones and restrict their movement. This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend."

Apple and Cook in particular are frequently vocal about human rights issues in the U.S., including those concerning gender and race. It has repeatedly shut down investor motions to set up a human rights committee, however, and has been accused of maintaining double standards overseas, turning a blind eye to abuses in the Middle East and China in order to preserve its business interests.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    My old lady told me she wants this to monitor me at the dog track 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 15
    Yes, we need to police Saudi Arabia...I hope we will also accept them policing us as well.

    It’s one thing if people are actually being overtly harmed, but it’s another thing if our severe over-sensitivity to a ‘patriarchy’ (which doesn’t even exist anymore in the US, at least as described by modern feminism) makes us want to fix other countries when potential offences by this app are likely to be very minor the vast majority of the time. It’s more the ‘idea’ of the app which we find offensive, and it’s not our place to make decisions for other countries and then cherrypick extreme examples to justify ourselves.
    command_fsteven n.buzdots
  • Reply 3 of 15
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,359member
    georgie01 said:
    Yes, we need to police Saudi Arabia...I hope we will also accept them policing us as well.

    It’s one thing if people are actually being overtly harmed, but it’s another thing if our severe over-sensitivity to a ‘patriarchy’ (which doesn’t even exist anymore in the US, at least as described by modern feminism) makes us want to fix other countries when potential offences by this app are likely to be very minor the vast majority of the time. It’s more the ‘idea’ of the app which we find offensive, and it’s not our place to make decisions for other countries and then cherrypick extreme examples to justify ourselves.
    I see what you are saying there.  Not that I condone the unequal treatment of women for a second especially in countries like Saudia Arabia and dare I say the USA ... equal pay duh? I often keep tabs on my wife and I am told by some people this is creepy and intrusive.  My wife is a Realtor and when she is out with clients I keep close tabs on her via Find Friends. When she does an open house I sit on the lanai or pool deck and read.  Maybe I am just old fashioned.
    marklark
  • Reply 4 of 15
    As I understood, the app doesn't provide any tracking by itself. It's just a gateway for other services, including those provided by the goverment.
    command_fminicoffee
  • Reply 5 of 15
    georgie01 said:
    Yes, we need to police Saudi Arabia....
    This isn't "policing" Saudi Arabia. They are not being asked here to change their laws. Apple and Google - private companies, not the government - are merely being asked not to approve and put an app on their app stores can be used for nefarious purposes, for which they profit from when downloaded. This is something Apple does with every app submission and this one isn't being singled out or treated differently.
    edited February 13 Roger_FingasStrangeDayscommand_fminicoffee
  • Reply 6 of 15
    ---
    edited February 13
  • Reply 7 of 15
    Roger_FingasRoger_Fingas Posts: 148member, editor
    urahara said:
    As I understood, the app doesn't provide any tracking by itself. It's just a gateway for other services, including those provided by the goverment.
    That's correct. 
  • Reply 8 of 15
    As soon as money talks, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia can do whatever they want. Kicking an app offline is an easy gesture, but our iCloud data still gets stored in countries that can abuse that data - Apple is quiet about that.
  • Reply 9 of 15
    As soon as money talks, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia can do whatever they want. Kicking an app offline is an easy gesture, but our iCloud data still gets stored in countries that can abuse that data - Apple is quiet about that.
    As far as I have read it's only local user data that is stored in China - not "my" data, and probably not "your" data. Plus, it's still encrypted using an encryption key unique to your device so it would be hard for the government to abuse.
    StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 15
    urahara said:
    As I understood, the app doesn't provide any tracking by itself. It's just a gateway for other services, including those provided by the goverment.
    That's correct. Besides, anyone can use the Absher website to set up travel restrictions for women in Saudi Arabia. Removing the app would be rather pointless. 
    command_fsteven n.watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 15
    georgie01 said:
    Yes, we need to police Saudi Arabia...I hope we will also accept them policing us as well.

    It’s one thing if people are actually being overtly harmed, but it’s another thing if our severe over-sensitivity to a ‘patriarchy’ (which doesn’t even exist anymore in the US, at least as described by modern feminism) makes us want to fix other countries when potential offences by this app are likely to be very minor the vast majority of the time. It’s more the ‘idea’ of the app which we find offensive, and it’s not our place to make decisions for other countries and then cherrypick extreme examples to justify ourselves.
    Are you serious? Women in SA require a male handler, who controls their movements, restricts their movements, and can revoke their passports at will. That isn't me being overly-sensitive, that is overt harm, and not minor. They are second-class citizens ineligible for equal rights, such as the right to travel freely. Until very recently they weren't even allowed to drive cars. Women have been executed for sex outside wedlock (adultery), and for using self-defense against their rapists. Israa al-Ghomgham is awaiting execution for peaceful human rights activism. 

    Oh let me guess, you're male? Yeah it's all minor.
    edited February 13 propod
  • Reply 12 of 15
    urahara said:
    As I understood, the app doesn't provide any tracking by itself. It's just a gateway for other services, including those provided by the goverment.
    That's correct. Besides, anyone can use the Absher website to set up travel restrictions for women in Saudi Arabia. Removing the app would be rather pointless. 
    Other than the point of having self-respect and convictions, you mean. Just because removing one channel of control won't get rid of female slavery in SA doesn't mean we shouldn't remove the app from US-controlled infrastructure. That is Apple's decision to make, and if they do so, I think it's a good move.

    I do lots of things because of my convictions, even if it won't cure the world. I would hope you do too.
  • Reply 13 of 15
    urahara said:
    As I understood, the app doesn't provide any tracking by itself. It's just a gateway for other services, including those provided by the goverment.
    That's correct. Besides, anyone can use the Absher website to set up travel restrictions for women in Saudi Arabia. Removing the app would be rather pointless. 
    Other than the point of having self-respect and convictions, you mean. Just because removing one channel of control won't get rid of female slavery in SA doesn't mean we shouldn't remove the app from US-controlled infrastructure. That is Apple's decision to make, and if they do so, I think it's a good move.

    I do lots of things because of my convictions, even if it won't cure the world. I would hope you do too.
    I get your point. I'm not against removing the app. I definitely think Apple should either remove the app or tell Saudi Arabia to remove the guardianship features. I was just looking at the big picture that removing it probably won't do a lot unfortunately. But you're right, removing it is better than nothing regardless of how little of an impact it would do. 
  • Reply 14 of 15
    georgie01 said:
    Yes, we need to police Saudi Arabia...I hope we will also accept them policing us as well.

    It’s one thing if people are actually being overtly harmed, but it’s another thing if our severe over-sensitivity to a ‘patriarchy’ (which doesn’t even exist anymore in the US, at least as described by modern feminism) makes us want to fix other countries when potential offences by this app are likely to be very minor the vast majority of the time. It’s more the ‘idea’ of the app which we find offensive, and it’s not our place to make decisions for other countries and then cherrypick extreme examples to justify ourselves.
    Are you serious? Women in SA require a male handler, who controls their movements, restricts their movements, and can revoke their passports at will. That isn't me being overly-sensitive, that is overt harm, and not minor. They are second-class citizens ineligible for equal rights, such as the right to travel freely. Until very recently they weren't even allowed to drive cars. Women have been executed for sex outside wedlock (adultery), and for using self-defense against their rapists. Israa al-Ghomgham is awaiting execution for peaceful human rights activism. 

    Oh let me guess, you're male? Yeah it's all minor.
    I find it very strange that "we" are so eager to project our "standards" (whatever they may be at the time) on other cultures.

    While "we" perceive ourselve as "right thought" in so many instances, it often seems those in our society who want to pass and impose judgement on others abhore the concept of colonialism - the very thing they are subtly endorsing.

    As Jurgen Osterhammel observed in his book Colonialism: "Rejecting cultural compromises..., the colonizers are convinced of their own superiority and their ordained mandate to rule."

    Yeah, I'm a male. Next.
  • Reply 15 of 15
    mknelson said:
    As soon as money talks, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia can do whatever they want. Kicking an app offline is an easy gesture, but our iCloud data still gets stored in countries that can abuse that data - Apple is quiet about that.
    As far as I have read it's only local user data that is stored in China - not "my" data, and probably not "your" data. Plus, it's still encrypted using an encryption key unique to your device so it would be hard for the government to abuse.
    That might be true - but Apple is not legally committing to keeping your data way from servers. It's so abstract - you and I have absolutely no idea where the data ends up and who has access to it. All we know is that Apple is legally covering themselves, and the TOS is mostly protective on Apple's side. With cloud servers being complex infrastructures, I have the right to know who has access to my data, and in which instances that information is disclosed.
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