Absher, an application developed by the Saudi Arabian government, is pitched as a convenient tool for managing a variety of needs — ordering copies of birth certificates, renewing car registration, and putting a hold on your wife's passport so she can't leave the country.
Yeah, you read that right. This app was specifically designed to make it as easy as possible for Saudi Arabian men to track their wives and place holds on their travel, even getting notifications when their wives try to cross the border. It can also be used to track children and domestic workers. And you can pick it up in the App Store or on Google Play, because neither Apple nor Google has removed it yet.
If you think this sounds like a human rights nightmare, you are not alone. Human rights organizations are speaking out about it and this week they were joined by Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who told the tech companies to stop enabling "the abhorrent surveillance and control of women" in a nation that has been repeatedly condemned for human rights violations. Saudi Arabian women are fleeing the country in search of refuge and the government is providing their husbands with the tools they need to track their wives down and force them to stay in the country, where they may face severe consequences for trying to leave.
Apple and Google need to take this app down immediately and set up a better review process for flagging and evaluating apps published by repressive governments. If Saudi Arabia wishes to revise and resubmit the app for approval, the functions designed to make it easier to control women should be removed. And in the future, governments with known poor human rights records shouldn't be allowed to place apps without careful review to check for unintended (or intended) repressive consequences.
Apple's Tim Cook said he'd "take a look." Even a superficial glance should be enough to tell that this app is an unacceptable human rights travesty.
Photo credit: AntonioGuillem/Getty Images