Apple CEO Tim Cook has promised his company will “take a look” at Absher, a Saudi government app with a feature letting men control the travel of their wives and daughters.
“I haven’t heard about it,” Cook said in an NPRinterview on Tuesday. “But obviously we’ll take a look at it if that’s the case.”
Apple and Google have come under increasing pressure to do something about the app. While it has innocent purposes such as paying parking tickets, it can be used to monitor and limit the travel of women under a man’s guardianship. Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concern.
The matter intensified on Tuesday when Oregon Senator Ron Wyden issued a letter to Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, calling on the two to take action and kick the app out of their respective app stores. In theory the Saudi government could simply remove the tracking features and resubmit, but the country is notoriously resistant to outside pressure on its social policies, which are based on a version of Islam that even many other Muslim countries see as too strict.
“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,” Wyden wrote. “By permitting the app in your respective stores, your companies are making it easier for Saudi men to control their family members from the convenience of their smartphones and restrict their movement. This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend.”
Apple and Cook in particular are frequently vocal about human rights issues in the U.S., including those concerning gender and race. It has repeatedly shut down investor motions to set up a human rights committee, however, and has been accused of maintaining double standards overseas, turning a blind eye to abuses in the Middle East and China in order to preserve its business interests.