BEIRUT, Lebanon — A Saudi mobile application that lets men track and restrict the movements of women in the kingdom has come under increased scrutiny this week with an American senator and rights groups urging Apple and Google to remove it from their platforms, accusing the technology giants of facilitating gender discrimination.
Saudi “guardianship laws” give women a legal status similar to that of minors in many areas of their lives. Every Saudi woman, regardless of age, has a male “guardian,” usually her father or husband, but sometimes her brother or son, who must give his permission for her to get a passport, have certain medical procedures or get married.
The app in question, called Absher, was launched in 2015 by the Saudi government. It allows men to manage the women under their guardianship by giving or revoking their right to travel through airports, tracking them by their national identity cards or passports. The men can turn on notifications that alert them with a text message any time a woman under their guardianship passes through an airport.
Absher, which roughly translates as “yes sir,” can be downloaded from both the Google Play store and Apple’s app store, which critics say makes the tech companies complicit in the repression of Saudi women.