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Runaway Saudi sisters demand Google, Apple remove 'women-tracking' app

Maha and Wafa al-Sibaie fled Saudi Arabia last week, citing oppression by their family

Date of publication: 25 April, 2019

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Saudi sisters call on Google and Apple to delete the Saudi government's "inhuman" Absher app, which allows men to track their female relatives and prevent them from travelling.

Two Saudi sisters who have fled what they say is misogynistic abuse in their homeland have called on Apple and Google to delete a Saudi government app that allows male guardians to track women and prevent them from travelling.

The app, called Absher (Good Tidings) allows Saudis to access government services and has been in operation for years, but it recently received global notoriety due to its people-tracking feature.

Men can register their wives, sisters, and daughters as 'dependents' on the app. This enables them to receive notifications when their female relatives try to leave the Saudi kingdom and prevent them from doing so.

Saudi male guardianship laws require women to have the consent of a male relative to obtain a passport, travel, or marry.

The two sisters, Maha and Wafa al-Subaie, aged 25 and 28 respectively, fled to Georgia last week, saying that they were treated like 'slaves' by their family, who regularly threatened them. They called the Absher app 'inhuman'.

"It gives men control over women", said Wafa. "They have to remove it". The app remains available on the Apple and Play stores. In February, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised to "take a look at" the Absher app.

"If they remove this application, maybe the government will do something", Wafa told Reuters.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed concern over apps like Absher, saying that she would follow up the issue with tech companies.

"Technology can, and should, be all about progress. But the hugely invasive powers that are being unleashed may do incalculable damage if there are not sufficient checks in place to respect human rights", she said.

Wafa and Maha have previously said that they were in danger of being found by their male relatives.

Georgia does not require visas for visitors from Saudi Arabia and is commonly used as a transit station for people fleeing the restrictive kingdom.

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