A new report points to Apple and Google being accused by human rights groups of helping 'enforce gender apartheid' by hosting Saudi government app that tracks women and stops them leaving the country.
Moments after posting our first report of the day titled "Apple is Unable to Keep up with Developers Bent on Raiding iPhone user's Private Data," we learned that a political site called the Insider has posted a report titled "Apple and Google accused of helping 'enforce gender apartheid' by hosting Saudi government app that tracks women and stops them leaving the country."
According to the new report, "Apple and Google have been accused of helping to 'enforce gender apartheid' in Saudi Arabia, by offering a sinister app which allows men to track women and stop them leaving the country.
Both Google Play and iTunes host Absher, a government web service which allows men to specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders, and to get close to real-time SMS updates when they travel.
Absher also has benign functions — like paying parking fines — but its travel features have been identified by activists and refugees as a major factor in the continued difficulty women have leaving Saudi Arabia.
Since the story was published, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both expressed concern about Google and Apple's role in hosting the app, which has been installed on smartphones more than 1 million times.
Human Rights Watch told INSIDER: "Apple and Google have rules against apps that facilitate threats and harassment.
"Apps like this one can facilitate human rights abuses, including discrimination against women."
Yasmine Mohammed, an ex-Muslim and outspoken critic of Saudi Arabia, told INSIDER that the companies are "facilitating the most archaic misogyny" and help the Saudi government to enforce "gender apartheid."
Rothna Begum, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch stated that "Even though the app is more general purpose, the government could simply remove the guardianship tracking functionality from the app, and continue to offer the rest of the functionality. (In other words, we wouldn't say that governments shouldn't be able to offer government services through mobile apps, just not services that facilitate abuses.)"
Neither Apple nor Google responded to repeated requests for comment from INSIDER over several days prior to publication. You could read the full Insider report here.
Last year Apple's CEO gave Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a tour of Apple's new Headquarters while they worked on various joint ventures. With the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a veiled connection to the Crown Prince has complicated matters of business.
Apple is likely to review the matter in-depth before jeopardizing their business projects with the Saudis in yanking the app in question too quickly.
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