Downloaded over one million times, Absher includes innocuous functions like being able to pay a parking fine. However, it’s the app’s travel features that have been the target of activists and human rights groups’ ire.
With the app, men can input a woman’s name and passport number. They can then decide how many trips women can take, how long women can travel for, and whether to cancel a woman’s permission to travel. The app even offers real-time SMS updates that detail when women travel.
Activists call out Absher’s alert system as one of the main reasons why women trying to flee Saudi Arabia are caught. They also claim that Absher facilitates human rights abuses, which go against Apple and Google’s app policies.
In Saudi Arabia, women must follow so-called guardianship laws. Women must gain consent by their male guardians — a father, uncle, husband, brother, or son — to do everything from school enrollment to paid employment.
In statements sent to Business Insider, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and a women’s rights activist called on Apple and Google to reconsider hosting Absher on their respective app stores. They also accused the companies of facilitating misogyny and helping “enforce gender apartheid.”