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US Senator demands Apple & Google pull app used by Saudis to oppress women

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Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has issued a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, calling on the pair to pull an app used to track the movements of Saudi women.

"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," Sen. Wyden wrote in part of the letter. "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."

The app, Absher, is operated by the Saudi government and has innocuous purposes like paying parking fines, but can also be used to monitor and limit the travel activity of wives and daughters under a man's guardianship, even canceling those permissions entirely. Although Saudi Arabia has loosened some of its old policies toward women — for instance by letting them drive — the country remains very patriarchal and governed under Wahhabism, a strict fundamentalist sect of Islam.

Groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concern about Apple and Google's continued hosting of the app. Human Rights Watch in particular has suggested that the companies could simply ask Saudi Arabia to remove guardianship options and resubmit.

Apple has yet to publicly comment on the matter, but the company is often an outspoken proponent of human rights, including those concerning gender and race. It has repeatedly shut down attempts to set up a human rights committee, however, and has been accused of maintaining double standards, turning a blind eye to abuses in the Middle East and China in order to preserve its business interests.