BEIRUT, Lebanon – A Saudi mobile application that allows men to track and limit the movements of women in the Kingdom was increasingly criticized this week. An American senator and ruling group called on Apple and Google to remove them from their platforms and accuse the technology giants of facilitating gender-based discrimination.
Saudi's guardianship laws give women legal status in many areas of their lives that is similar to that of minors. Every Saudi woman, regardless of age, has a male guardian, usually her father or husband, but sometimes her brother or son, who needs permission to obtain a passport, to receive or marry certain medical procedures.
The app in question Absher was launched in 2015 by the Saudi government. It allows men to handle women under their guardianship by revoking or revoking their right to visit airports with their national identity cards or passports. The men can activate notifications that they notify by SMS when a woman passes through an airport under her guardianship.
Absher, roughly translated as "Yes, Sir", can be downloaded from both the Google Play Store and Apple's App Store. According to critics, tech companies are complicit in the merits of Saudi Arabian women.
Efforts to pull away from the platforms were stepped up this week as Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, demanded this in a letter to the two companies.
"It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy is trying to restrict and oppress Saudi women, but American companies should not facilitate or facilitate the patriarchate of the Saudi government," Wyden said Letter that was released on Monday.
Mr. Wyden, who directed the chief executive officers of Apple and Google to Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, said the companies made it easier for Saudi men to control their family members conveniently from their smartphones and restrict their movement.
He urged them to prevent their companies being "used by the Saudi government to facilitate the vile surveillance and control of women."
Representatives of Apple and the Saudi government did not immediately respond to requests for comments. A Google spokesperson confirmed that the company is evaluating the app to see if it complies with the guidelines.
Saudi Arabia has one of the world's most restrictive environments for women, though the country's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has eased some of its constraints in 2015, following his father's rising, King Salman.
Since then, the Kingdom has relaxed women's clothing restrictions, expanded the field for women in the working population, and started providing physical education for girls in state schools. Last year, Saudi Arabia lifted one a long-standing ban on female drivers, one step was an important milestone.
However, critics say that Saudi women can not achieve equality as long as the kingdom maintains its guardianship laws. Saudi officials argue that such restrictions are rooted in their culture and are supported by many in the kingdom.
Absher, which can be used by Saudi nationals and residents, is an online portal where both men and women can access a range of government services, from paying for tickets to applying for new passes. The control of women is just one of the functions.
The suppression of Saudi Arabian women made headlines last month when 18-year-old Saudi Rahaf Alqunun barricaded himself in a hotel room at Bangkok Airport to prevent a return to his family. She had slipped from her family during a vacation in Kuwait and boarded a plane to Thailand, but was stopped at the airport. She later received asylum in Canada.
Another Saudi woman who fled to Australia from the kingdom described her father's secret phone to seize her boat and give herself permission to travel so she could leave the country undetected.
Human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have long campaigned for the abrogation of guardianship laws, but the goal of Absher and its availability on Western technology platforms is new.
Hala Aldosary, a Saudi Arabian scholar and activist from the United States, said the removal of the app by Apple and Google could send an important message to leaders such as Prince Mohammed, who seek partnerships with global tech companies to improve them economies.
"If the technology companies would say, 'They are oppressive,' that would mean a lot," said Ms. Aldosary.
But removing the app would not eliminate the guardianship laws of the country, she said. Men could still change the status of their female relatives online or in government offices.
"The app is a means to an end, but it's not the end," she said. "But it makes life easier for the guards."
When I was asked for Absher In an interview with National Public Radio on Monday, Mr. Cook said Apple had not heard of it.
"But of course we'll look at it if that's the case," he said.
However, both companies have responded to similar app removal campaigns.
In December, Apple removed a religious app from its online store that portrayed gays as "disease" and "sin" after a group of gay rights protests, NBC News reported.