Google rules Saudi women control app violates no rules – report

Google rules Saudi women control app violates no rules – report
Google has apparently told a US congresswoman that a Saudi government app that allows men to keep tabs on women and bar them from leaving the country is in compliance with its guidelines, Business Insider reported.

The Alphabet-owned IT giant has reportedly found nothing wrong with the controversial app, devised by the Saudi government to help citizens with routine administrative duties such as tracking female members of their families, the Insider reported on Saturday. The statement was made by Google in response to a request by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) and another 13 of her fellow lawmakers, including freshman Muslim representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

The app that has sparked an outcry in the US House is Absher, which provides Saudi citizens and residents with an opportunity to "safely browse your profile or your family members, or labors working for you, and perform a range of eServices online."

In the ultra-conservative kingdom with its strict male guardianship system, these services include helping a male guardian see if a woman attempts to use her passport, and stop her from leaving.

As she filed a request with Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to pull the app, Speier warned that if the companies keep it on their platforms, they would become "accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers."

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She told Insider that both Apple and Google missed the deadline to remove the app by February 28.

"As of today, the Absher app remains available in both the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store even though they can easily remove it," Speier said, slamming the response by the tech giants as "deeply unsatisfactory."

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The US lawmakers' outrage was echoed by their colleagues in Europe. Last month, European MPs called on the oil-rich kingdom to abolish its archaic male guardianship system, specifically taking aim at a "government web service" in an apparent reference to Absher.

Saudi women still face many restrictions as they go about everyday life despite several concessions made as part of reforms championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Since last year, women in Saudi Arabia are eligible for driving licenses after a ban was lifted on female motorists. While the move was celebrated around the world, women still need to ask a guardian's permission to get the license. Likewise, women cannot marry, get a divorce or open a bank account without a guardian's permission, and their testimony is worth only half that of a man in court.

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