Controversial app allows Saudi men to track women

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A US senator is asking Apple and Google to pull an app in Saudi Arabia that men use to track and restrict the movements of women.

Absher, an app that people can download on the Google Play store and Apple's app store, works as an e-government portal and general services software for the Saudi Interior Ministry.

"I am demanding that Google and Apple pull down apps that promote abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia", Wyden said on Twitter.

In his letter to Google and Apple, Wyden wrote: "It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable or facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy". "This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend".

"The use of the Absher app to curtail the movement of women once again highlights the disturbing system of discrimination against women under the guardianship system and the need for genuine human rights reforms in the country, rather than just social and economic reforms". Talking about it to National Public Radio, Cook said he was not aware of the app but promised to take action if that was the case. Google has not acknowledged repeated requests for comment.

Google has not responded to requests from the BBC for comment.

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The app has been downloaded 4.2 million times on the App Store and 5 million times on Google Play since launching in mid-2015, according to Apptopia. Women must ask the permission of their guardians to get married, open bank accounts and travel to certain places, and thanks to Absher, tracking and restricting the travel options of women is easier than it has ever been.

Coogle of Human Rights Watch said, "The Saudi government uses this app to discriminate against women, and therefore those who are providing the app should ensure that their app complies with their terms of service and perhaps even look into advocating with Saudi Arabia to change the laws and change the app".

Human rights campaigners argued the tech giants are enabling abuses against women and girls in the ultra-conservative kingdom by hosting the app.

"It's really designed with the men in mind", Rothna Begum, a senior researcher on women's rights at Human Rights Watch, told NPR.

In Saudi Arabia, women's lives are highly restricted. They also accused the companies of facilitating misogyny and helping "enforce gender apartheid".

Both firms hosted Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman previous year.

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