Apple and Google have both been accused of enabling “gender apartheid” by allowing an app which allows Saudi men to 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.
Amnesty International researcher Dana Ahmed called on tech companies to "assess the risk of human rights abuses and mitigate 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.”
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.
The app is certainly inconsistent with APP public relations efforts. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook was given the “Courage Against Hate” award by the Anti-Defamation League last December. Cook gave a speech after receiving it where he proclaimed that he has “one message for those who seek to push hate, division and violence. You have no place on our platforms. You have no home here.”
For a company who has cultivated a public image of progressivism and equality, its collaboration with Sharia law in Saudi Arabia seems like a complete contradiction of its values. Apple has yet to comment on the controversy.
Yasmine Mohammed, an ex-Muslim activist and women’s rights advocate, was critical of the tech firms. She added that there is "a definite tragedy in the world's most technologically progressive platforms, Apple and Google, facilitating the most archaic misogyny.” She further explained the discrepancy of how tech is used in the Mideast vs. how it is deployed in the West “What irony. In the West these technologies are used to improve lives and in Saudi Arabia they're used to enforce gender apartheid."