U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier is trying to pressure Google and Apple into removing a restrictive Saudi Arabian phone app that allows men to track women and migrant workers.
Speier, D-San Mateo, was one of 14 lawmakers who signed a letter Thursday addressed to the two tech giants, asking them to block the app from their platforms.
The app, named Absher, has a function that sends Saudi men a text when one of their charges, typically a woman or migrant, tries to travel through an airport. The men are then able to intervene if they don’t want the person traveling.
The Saudi government designed the app for citizens to perform “routine functions,” according to Speier. Many of those are not controversial, such as paying traffic tickets.
But gender inequality is persistent in the kingdom. Women in Saudi Arabia must have a male guardian who often makes practical decisions for them.
U.S. lawmakers say that American tech companies shouldn’t be supporting an app that allows gender inequality.
“The ingenuity of American technology companies should not be perverted to violate the human rights of Saudi women,” the representatives said in the letter. “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.”
Lawmakers asked Apple and Google for a response by Thursday.
It’s unclear how they’ll respond. Neither company responded to a request for comment Friday.
The Saudi Arabia Embassy also did not respond to a request for comment.