If the relationship between Apple, Google and the governments they are working on is not strained enough already, they are being pushed even further. US Senator Ron Wyden has formally asked the technical companies' CEOs to immediately remove a Saudi Arabian government's app, called Absher, from their app stores, referring to media reports that the app is being used by Saudi men to monitor and control their wives and unmarried daughters. 19659002] Absher was first known outside of Saudi Arabia earlier this month after an insider report showed the system's web interface which allows male "guardians" to register their female relatives' travel business. Although parents can reasonably use the system to monitor their children's travels, Absher's message alert system has been used to flutter conception attempts by women and girls seeking asylum outside of Saudi Arabia, so they can be arrested before leaving the country.
While Absher includes a Saudi Arabian website, it is also available in the IOS and Android app form, which led activists to blame the companies for helping to "enforce gender apartheid." It is the mobile apps that Wyden is targeting in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, saying companies allow Saudi men to use their phones to control their family members, who "fly in the face of the kind of society you both claim to support and defend. "
The situation cannot seem so unilateral to Apple and Google. Absher is officially published by the Saudi Arabian Government's National Information Center, and has some legitimate purposes – not contrary to US customs requirements, that both parents authorize children to cross borders. Nor is it the only way GPS-assisted location services on iOS and Android devices track users, as Google obviously enables sharing location, and even privacy-focused Apple provides parents with a "Find My Friend" app that can be used for to find family members at any time.
Nevertheless, the Saudi government has deserved great criticism over the last few months for the secret monitoring and killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which sheds new light on its authoritarian and sometimes dangerous practices. It seems unlikely that Apple or Google will choose to block the app, largely based on a request from a US official, but additional human rights are raging outside and inside companies may lead to change.