Google Won’t Remove Saudi Woman-Tracking App

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Even though Saudi woman can now drive, their movements can be tracked (Photo: HUSSAIN RADWAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Even though Saudi woman can now drive, their movements can be tracked (Photo: HUSSAIN RADWAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Google’s stands by its Saudi woman-tracking app that facilitates the patriarchy and misogyny in the kingdom. Apple, which also offers the app, hasn’t decided if it will pull the app yet.

If you’re a Saudi man who has misplaced his wife or indentured domestic servant, Google has an app called Absher that can help with that. The app allows male users to: 
  • Receive a text message when female “dependents” use their passport at a border 
  • Grant or revoke remotely a woman’s passport
  • Limit the number of journeys a woman can take or how long she can travel for 

Google told the office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier — one of the 14 members of Congress who wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking both companies to stop hosting the app — that the app doesn’t violate its terms of service.

Women in Saudi Arabia  must have an official male guardian, whether it be their husband, father, uncle, brother, etc. or even son. Likewise, foreign female domestic workers must have male guardians as well, even though it is unlikely that these domestic workers (more accurately called indentured servants or slaves) will be able to use their passports at the border since many have their passports taken by their employers upon arrival. 

In a separate letter, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden asked the Apple and Google CEO’s to remove Absher from app stores. Wyden wrote: 

“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.” 

Both companies agreed to launch investigations into the woman-tracking app. Google’s investigation cleared the app saying that it doesn’t violate any agreements. Apple is still pursuing its investigation. 

In late 2018, Apple’s CEO announced that tech needs to take a moral stand against hate speech. Now, the world waits while he decides whether tracking a woman’s movement qualifies as morality. 

Meanwhile, our world — which has become heavily dependent on tech giants like Google and Apple — now watches those tech giants dehumanize and oppress women in far corners of the world. 

Google’s decision in the case of it’s woman-tracking app is unsurprising, especially considering that Google continues to support China’s boot-crushing oppression of its Muslim population, the Uighurs.

While we wait for Apple to make its decision on this app, we need to remember that the real power lies with us. Our consumption of Silicon Valley products (and our vast data contribution to them) has given rise and reach to what I call our “Silicon Valley overlords.” 

We have now reached the point where Silicon Valley has the widest censorship reach in human history. This app, approved by Goggle, is just one example of that.



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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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