google absher saudi arabia

Google will keep Saudi Arabian app that tracks women’s travel

The decision comes after two Congressional letters.


Stephanie Fillion


Posted on Mar 3, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 5:52 pm CDT

Google’s Play store will continue to host an app connected to a Saudi Arabian national web service that allows male guardians to track a woman’s movements in and out of that country, the company decided late last week.

Following a letter published in Business Insider from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asking both Google and Apple to remove the app, called Absher. The company communicated to Rep. Jackie Speier’s (D-Calif.) office that the app does not violate its terms and conditions, according to Business Insider.

Insider reported in early February that the service allows male guardians to track, approve, and report travel permissions for women under their control, in addition to performing other actions like paying parking fines and renewing driving licenses. Users can also opt into a text message service, which alerts them whenever a woman under their protection leaves the country.

Fourteen American politicians signed a separate letter on Feb. 21, calling the tech companies “accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women” and asking Google and Apple, through its iTunes store, to remove the app. Signatories included Rep. Speier and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Google did not provide an explanation for the company’s decision, and Apple is still investigating the matter, according to Business Insider.

Business Insider said the app “digitized parts of the guardian system.” The guardian system is Saudi law dictating that woman’s life is under the control of a male guardian, whether it’s a father, a husband, a brother, or even a son, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

The report, from 2016 says that on one hand, Absher has made some progressive changes: “This is sort of progress in a way where the system allows for the guardian to give an open permission, rather than for every trip,” a Saudi woman told HRW. “But that is not the point. I am old enough to travel when I want to travel. I don’t need someone else’s permission.”

H/T Business Insider





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*First Published: Mar 3, 2019, 8:38 pm CST