explainer

An app that lets men track their wives exists. And Google refuses to remove it.

Men are using a Saudi government-made app to track their wives and control their travel.

The app allows Saudi men to limit the number of times a nominated woman can leave the country, how long she can travel for and even prevent her from leaving.

The Absher app has been described as “abhorrent” and accused of helping to  “facilitate human rights abuses”.

There are calls from 14 members of US Congress to have the app removed from major US-owned tech platforms.

And yet despite all this, Google refuses to remove the app from its Play store.

The tech giant says that it doesn’t breach the company’s terms and conditions, Business Insider reports, and therefore they have left Absher available to download.

Apple, meanwhile, has been accused of dragging its feet on the issue. After CEO Tim Cooke announced the company would investigate the app last month it is still yet to make a decision.

How Absher works

The app allows users to put in the details of their wife or another female family member he has guardianship over, including her passport number. The man can then set parameters like how many journeys she can take outside the country, and the length of each journey, and even which airports she can go to.

The app will then alert the man via whenever his wife uses her passport. If he wants to, he can grant or revoke her travel permission with just a few taps of his thumbs.

app-absher
The app allows men to easily set their wife's travel restrictions. Image: Absher.
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It's important to note that Absher is a government-made app - in fact, it's the mobile app for the Saudi Ministry of Interior's website. The capabilities it offers are wholly in line with the country's strict 'guardianship laws'.

It's the same set of laws that, up until mid-2018, dictated that Saudi women could not drive. But while that law was overturned by a decree from the ruler, King Salman, it's other oppressive rules have not.

Not only do men have control of their female family members rights to travel, with women required to provide signed permission forms, but they also get to decide whether or not she can play sport.

And in a society where men and women are kept separate from each other as much as possible, women are the ones discouraged from taking public transport.

Equally important to note though, is that the app makes it that much harder for women attempting to flee the abuse and control of their homelife.

As Insider pointed out in their investigation of the app, by alerting the men in real time, it makes it much more likely that they will prevent the woman from leaving, when otherwise she might have reached relative safety before they'd found out.

And that's why US Congress members are asking for Apple and Google to remove the app from their platforms.

"The ingenuity of American technology companies should not be perverted to violate the human rights of Saudi women," the 14 Congress men and women wrote in their letter to the companies CEOs.

"Keeping this application in your stores allows your companies and your American employees to be accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers."

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