Why Are Apple and Google Offering a Saudi App That Tracks Women?

Tech giants Google and Apple are in hot water this week, thanks to an incredibly invasive app. Developed by the Saudi Arabian government, Absher allows men to track their wives as well as household staff.

Now, human rights groups are urging the companies to pull the app from their platforms.

Take action: Join the Care2 activists calling for Apple and Google to delist Absher and stand up for human rights!

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are severely curtailed: They are not allowed to leave the country without permission, and they need to follow arcane and complex rules when going out in public. Their husbands have an incredible degree of control over them.

This app codifies that reality by allowing men to track their wives. Absher also enables tracking of children and domestic staff, touching on another serious human rights issue in a country where domestic workers are subjected to systemic abuse with little recourse.

The government pitched the app as a convenience, according to NPR – even offering alert notifications for specific activities, like crossing borders. And men can use it to place travel limits on their wives’ passports.

Absher also has other functions, serving as an e-portal for a variety of government services. The ability to renew vehicle registrations and get copies of birth certificates via the app is certainly handy, but those features could easily be decoupled from the tracking mechanisms to allow users to enjoy those services without enabling the abuse of family members and domestic staff.

While Absher can be turned against its users, as in the case of those who changed the settings in their husbands’ phones to make it easier for them to flee the country, it’s pretty clearly a human rights nightmare.

The app is designed very specifically to help men control women, and it highlights the fact that neither Apple nor Google reviews apps very closely before allowing them to go up. When a repressive regime starts marketing a product like this, it should raise at least a few eyebrows.

The general public became aware of the issue in part thanks to Senator Ron Wyden. The Democrat from Oregon took to Twitter to condemn it and called on the tech companies to pull it from their listings. In a letter to Apple and Google, he said “American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government’s patriarchy.”

Saudi Arabia has been treated as an ally of the United States, but that’s starting to shift in response to growing pressure over the country’s human rights record. While the government’s history of repression has been well-documented, the cold-blooded murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi drove the point home.

A growing number of women are fleeing the country and seeking asylum, speaking out about the abuses they experience; one such woman, Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, made international headlines by livetweeting her terrified pleas for asylum in January.

The United States’ history of favorable relations with Saudi Arabia is growing harder to defend as the regime gets more brazen and members of the public grow more outspoken when it comes to advocating for civil rights. Despite this fact, key figures in the regime — including the man accused of ordering Khashoggi’s assassination – continues to be internationally feted by multiple governments and charitable organizations.

Take Action!

Tell Apple and Google that hosting an app enabling human rights abuses is not okay by signing this Care2 petition.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo Credit: Getty Images


Chad A
Chad A9 days ago


Chad A
Chad A9 days ago

Thank you.

Frances G
Frances G18 days ago

Signed. Thanks.

Thomas M
Thomas M19 days ago


Coo R
Coo R20 days ago

Only weak men are scared by strong women.

Leo C
Leo Custer27 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

Janet B
Janet B29 days ago


Janis K
Janis K29 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

Leo Custer
Leo Custer29 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

Anna R
Anna R29 days ago