Apple and Google have been accused of helping to "enforce apartheid" in Saudi Arabia, proposing an ominous application that allows men to follow women and prevent them from leaving the country.
Absher is a government web service that allows men to specify when and how women can cross Saudi borders and get closer to real-time SMS updates while on the move.
Absher also has benign duties – like paying parking fines – but activists and refugees have identified her displacement characteristics as a major factor in women's persistent difficulty in leaving Saudi Arabia.
Neither Apple nor Google have responded to repeated requests for comments from INSIDER several days before the publication of this article.
The INSIDER reported on the existence of Absher last week, as well as Shahad Al Mohaimeed, a Saudi refugee teenager who escaped the system to seek asylum in Sweden.
This is a screenshot of a desktop version of Absher, with added tags to explain its functions:
On this form, caretakers can tell where women can go, how long and which airports they can go to. Absher
A page on Absher where a tutor can see which permissions are active and change them easily if necessary. Absher
Since the publication of the article, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both expressed concern about the role of Google and Apple in hosting the application, which has been installed on a smartphone over a million times.
Human Rights Watch told INSIDER: "Apple and Google have rules against applications that facilitate threats and harassment.
"Applications like this can facilitate human rights violations, including discrimination against women."
CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International warned Google and Apple against the impact this application may have on women in Saudi Arabia. Beck Diefenbach / Reuters
Amnesty International told INSIDER that SMS alerts were "another example of how the Saudi government has developed tools to limit women's freedoms."
He urged Apple and Google to accept that the application be used to harm women and demand changes so that it does not happen again.
Read more: Questions and Answers on Obstacles and Obstacles Faced by Hungry Saudi Women
Yasmine Mohammed, a former Muslim and bitter criticism of Saudi Arabia, told INSIDER that the companies "facilitate the most archaic misogyny" and help the Saudi government enforce "gender apartheid" .
According to Google Play Store, Absher has been downloaded over 1 million times on Android devices. Apple does not disclose download figures for apps.
The login page of the iOS Absher application in Arabic, requesting a government login and password. Absher
The warning system, which can be set up inside Absher, is one of the main reasons why women who attempt to flee Saudi Arabia get have them taken, according to activists.
According to Taleb Al Abdulmohsen, a Saudi refugee who has applied for asylum in Germany, this function is a guarantee of security for guardians while women on the run can always be apprehended.
Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East, also informed INSIDER of SMS alerts and corroborated the story of Al Abdulmohsen.
Here are the reviews of Google and Apple in their entirety:
Rothna Begum, researcher for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East:
"Apple and Google have rules against apps that make threats and harassment easier, and apps like this can ease human rights violations, including discrimination against women.
"To determine if an app should be allowed, app store vendors should consider the broader context of the purpose of the app, its use in practice and its usefulness, as well as determine if it facilitates serious violations, companies need to look more closely at government-run applications, in particular.
"Even if the app has a more general purpose, the government could simply remove the app's guardianship tracking feature and continue to offer the rest of the feature." (In other words, we would not say that governments should not be able to offer government services via mobile apps, but not services that facilitate abuse.) "
Dana Ahmed, researcher in Saudi Arabia for Amnesty International:
"We call these companies to assess the risk of human rights abuses and mitigate the damage that these applications could have for women.
"This is another example of how the Saudi government has developed tools to limit women's freedoms.
"The search for women in this way limits their movement and highlights, once again, the worrying system of discrimination governed by guardianship laws."
Yasmine Mohammed, former Muslim and women's rights activist:
"The most technologically advanced platforms, Apple and Google, have provoked a tragedy that facilitates the most archaic misogyny.
"How ironic .. In the West, these technologies are used to improve lives and in Saudi Arabia, they are used to impose gender apartheid."
Read more: Saudi Arabia runs a massive, sinister online database that men rely on to follow them and prevent them from fleeing