- Sen. Marco Rubio, members of Congress, and other activists have condemned Google for siding with Saudi Arabia over a controversial government app.
- INSIDER reported extensively how Absher lets men direct where women can travel, and offers alerts when they use a passport to leave Saudi Arabia.
- Rubio said Google’s decision to keep the app — which INSIDER reported over the weekend — is “grotesque.”
- Rep. Jackie Speier and 13 other members of Congress, including Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, demanded Apple and Google axe the app on February 21.
- Apple also hosts a version of the app. The company says it is still investigating what actions to take.
Senator Marco Rubio led a wave of intense criticism of Google over its decision not to remove a Saudi government app which helps men control where women travel, branding it “grotesque.”
Sen. Rubio joined politicians of both parties and human rights activists who have attacked Google over its handling of the app, which is called Absher.
INSIDER was first to report extensively how the app — called “Absher” — lets men direct where women can travel, and offers alerts when they use their passport to leave Saudi Arabia.
The travel permissions feature is one of 160 services offered by the app, most of which are benign functions like renewing a driving license.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio posted a tweet about Google’s decision on Tuesday.
(Contrary to Rubio’s tweet, Google did not develop the app, but does host it on the Google Play store.)
She said: “Disappointed to hear that Google won’t take steps to stand up against an app that treats women like property. If oppression doesn’t violate your terms of agreement, you should change the terms.”
Rep. Speier also told INSIDER: “The responses received so far from Apple and Google are deeply unsatisfactory.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted: “Women are not your property! Women are not your property! Women are not your property!”
“So why are @Apple and @Google hosting an app that allows men to track and control women’s movement in Saudi Arabia?”
“This insanity needs to end!”
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, tweeted:
“Really pathetic, @Google – doubling down on sponsoring #Saudi government app that lets men track women and control their travel makes you complicit in this unlawful and unjust domination of women.”
Code Pink, a grassroots women’s rights movement, tweeted:
“SMH! Shame on @Google for not removing Absher, an app that aids in extreme violations of women’s rights and freedoms and should certainly be considered “inappropriate content”.”
Martha Lane Fox, founder of the $220 million site Lastminute.com said: “Come on @google @sundarpichai : Google refuses to remove Saudi govt app that tracks women.”
The Washington Post’s editorial board wrote an article on Wednesday which said: “Absher is an e-government service, and the Saudi government is an engine of sexist repression — so in addition to the app’s innocuous uses, the app is a tool for enforcing the regime’s guardianship system.”
US Senator for Oregon Ron Wyden had previously slammed Google and Apple for hosting the app, demanding they “immediately remove” it, as it “flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to defend.”
Wyden told INSIDER on Thursday it’s time for Apple to “stop stalling and make a choice.”
In an official Saudi press agency release, the Kingdom’s interior ministry defended the app on February 16, and disregarded “attempts to politicize” the app by western politicians.
Apple and Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment from INSIDER.