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Senator calls for Google, Apple to drop Saudi app that monitors women

Saudi woman hopes others will seek asylum

Women in Saudi Arabia have limited options in terms of where they're allowed to go and what they're allowed to do, but American companies shouldn't facilitate the kingdom's system of discriminating against half its population. 

That's the argument of human rights groups and at least one U.S. senator, who is urging Apple and Google to stop hosting a Saudi government app that lets men track women. 

The app, Absher, can be downloaded on the Google Play store and Apple's App Store. It functions as a e-government portal for the Saudi Interior Ministry, and it helps facilitate a guardianship system in a nation that doesn't allow women to travel without permission from a male guardian. 

Men can use Absher to curb the travel of Saudi females by letting them leave or not leave the country, as well as restricting when and where women are allowed to go.

Business Insider first reported on the app's existence last week, drawing concern from human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. 

Senatorial opposition

More recently, Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden joined that effort, calling on both companies to reconsider.

"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 to restrict their movements," Wyden wrote Monday to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. "This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend."

In the letter, which the senator's office emailed to CBS MoneyWatch, Wyden called on both companies to take immediate steps to prevent their technology "from being used by the Saudi government to enable to abhorrent surveillance and control of women."

Google and Apple did not return requests for comment.

The backlash against the app comes after several negative headlines involving Saudi Arabia, including a Saudi teen granted asylum in Canada after fleeing the kingdom, with her escape highlighting its male guardianship laws. The Saudi government also continues to face condemnation after the October killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.