Apple and Google accused of allowing “Sharia law” app in Saudi Arabia

13 February 2019
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Apple and Google have both been accused of enabling “gender apartheid” by allowing an app which helps Saudi men track their wives or family and prevent them from leaving the country.

Apple iTunes and Google Play both host a government web program called Asher, which allows men to monitor and decide how far and how long a woman may travel. They can also revoke their permission to travel. According to Saudi, Sharia-based law, a woman must have a “guardian” (i.e. husband, father, or brother). Women are not permitted to travel by themselves in that country.

The app has been wildly popular in the region, according to AppleInsider. “On Google Play, the Android version of the app is reported to have been downloaded over a million times, and has been given over 27 thousand ratings with an even higher average of 4.6 out of 5,” it reported.

Amnesty International researcher Dana Ahmed called on tech companies to “assess the risk of human rights abuses and mitigate the harm that these apps may have on women. This is another example of how the Saudi Arabian government has produced tools to limit women’s freedoms.”
Human Rights Watch raised the idea that companies are going against their own terms of service. Researcher Rothna Begum commented that “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.”

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