- Critics of Apple and Google have told them to come clean about a Saudi government app under investigation hosted on their app stores.
- Wednesday marked two weeks since Apple and Google promised to investigate the Absher app. Both companies have since gone quiet.
- US Senator Ron Wyden told INSIDER: "Apple and Google need to stop stalling and make a choice."
- Last week 14 members of Congress gave the tech giants until Thursday to explain their progress in their investigations. INSIDER understands that none of them have received replies so far.
- The letter — which included signatures from Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Jackie Speier — called Apple and Google "accomplices in oppression."
- INSIDER was first to report at length how Absher can be used to grant and rescind travel permission for women, and to set up SMS alerts to track when women use their passports.
- Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other activists have also criticized Apple and Google over Absher.
Politicians and activists are piling pressure on Apple and Google to finish their investigations and start explaining why they are using their app store to host a widely-criticized Saudi government app which is used to monitor and control women.
INSIDER was first to report at length how Absher — an all-purpose app Saudis use to interact with authorities — can be used to grant and rescind travel permission for women, and to set up SMS alerts to track when women use their passports.
Earlier this month Google promised to review Absher to determine whether it is in line with its policies, shortly after Apple CEO Tim Cook pledged to "take a look" at the app. Neither company has mentioned their investigations since.
US Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who previously slammed the tech giants in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, told INSIDER on Tuesday: "Apple and Google need to stop stalling and make a choice."
"Will they continue to abet an authoritarian government’s control and abuse of women? Or will they put values over profits and remove this app from their platforms?"
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Wyden was the first US politician to challenge Google and Apple over Absher, demanding in a scathing February 11 letter that the companies "immediately remove" the app from the App Store and Google Play, as it "flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend."
Yasmine Mohammed, a women’s rights activist in Canada who has been vocal about Absher, also told INSIDER: "Tim Cook can only stall for so long before he will ultimately be forced to decide if human progress, human rights, supersede profits or not."
On Thursday, 14 members of Congress — including Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Katherine Clark, and Jackie Speier — demanded that Apple and Google’s investigations be made public, calling the tech companies "accomplices in oppression."
They gave a deadline of Thursday, February 28, for the two companies to respond. As of Thursday morning, there was no sign that either company had replied.
In the letter, they said that Absher "serves as [a] tracking device" used to "prevent the free movement of Saudi women."
"Twenty first century innovations should not perpetuate sixteenth century tyranny," the 14 members of Congress wrote.
"Keeping this application in your stores allows your companies and your American employees to be accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers," they added.
Apple and Google have not responded to repeated requests for comment from INSIDER.
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- ‘Accomplices in oppression’: 14 new members of Congress demand Apple and Google remove Saudi government app that lets men control women’s movements