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Tech giants Google and Apple have come under fire for hosting a controversial smartphone app that allows Saudi men to monitor how and where women travel and effectively prevent them from leaving the country without permission.
Developed by the government of Saudi Arabia, Absher has been around for a while, but it only started making waves in western media after an article in ThisIsInsider highlighted one of its most controversial features – allowing male “guardians” to track and restrict women’s movements via their smartphones. In Saudi Arabia, women are placed under the authority of a male guardian regardless of their age. Women must ask the permission of their guardians to get married, open bank accounts and travel to certain places, and thanks to Absher, tracking an restricting the travel options of women is easier than it’s ever been.
Using the app, guardians can register dependent women, grant and cancel travel privileges, as well as blacklist certain destinations with just a few touchscreen presses. Whenever a dependent woman deviates from her set travel profile or attempts to cross the border through a customs office, the guardian receives an alert via Absher, allowing him to take appropriate action before she leaves the country illegally.
Before apps became such a huge part of our daily lives, Saudi women had to present a signed yellow form whenever they traveled abroad unaccompanied by their guardians, which was easier to forge, but because Absher works in real-time, it’s much harder to get around. In fact, the government-operated service is considered one of the main reasons women are caught trying to leave the country.