Despite outcry from human rights groups and politicians, Google will reportedly keep a controversial Saudi government app in its Google Play store, Business Insider reported Saturday. Among other functions, the app allows Saudi men to track and restrict the travel of women and dependents.
The decision not to remove the app, Absher, follows a Feb. 21 letter signed by more than a dozen members of Congress calling on Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to pull it from their companies’ respective app stores. Business Insider reported that Google alerted the office of Representative Jackie Speier—one of 14 members of Congress who signed the letter—as to its decision, while Apple told her office on Feb. 28 that it was still looking into the app.
The letter recognized that the app enables users to carry out a number of “routine functions,” such as requesting or renewing government documents including passports and vehicle registration. Indeed, many reviews of the app in Google Play praise the ease with which users are able to perform those tasks. But the letter specifically addressed the representatives’ “alarm over the app’s features which prevent the free movement of Saudi women and migrant workers.”
“The ingenuity of American technology companies should not be perverted to violate the human rights of Saudi women,” they wrote. “Twenty first century innovations should not perpetuate sixteenth century tyranny. Keeping this application in your stories allows your companies and your American employees to be accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers.”
Google did not immediately return a request for comment about allowing the app to remain in Google Play, though it reportedly told Speier’s office that Absher did not violate its terms of service. Apple did not immediately return a request for comment on the status of its review of the app or whether it plans to keep it in the App Store.
Amnesty International previously called on both tech companies to “assess the risk of human rights abuses on women” in a statement to the Washington Post in early February. The organization said that Absher’s use for tracking and limiting women’s movements “highlights the disturbing system of discrimination against women under the guardianship system and the need for genuine human rights reforms in the country, rather than just social and economic reforms.”