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Google, Apple to Remove Saudi App Allowing Men to Control and Monitor Wives

The app is available in the Saudi version of the Google and Apple online stores.

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FILE - A Saudi woman speaks on the phone in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Oct. 2, 2017. VOA

A Saudi Arabian government app that allows men in the country to monitor and control their female relatives’ travel at the click of a button should be removed from Google and Apple’s online stores, a U.S. politician and activists said on Wednesday.

Human rights campaigners argued the tech giants are enabling abuses against women and girls in the ultra-conservative kingdom by hosting the app.

The free Absher app, created by the Saudi interior ministry, allows men to update or withdraw permissions for their wives and female relatives to travel internationally and get SMS updates if their passports are used, said human rights researchers.

The app is available in the Saudi version of the Google and Apple online stores.

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The app is available in the Saudi version of the Google and Apple online stores. VOA

“Part of the app’s design is to discriminate against women,” said Rothna Begum, an expert in women’s rights in the Middle East at Human Rights Watch.

“The complete control that a male guardian has is now facilitated with the use of modern technology and makes the lives of men ultimately easier and restricts women’s lives that much more.”

Begum said a few women had turned the app to their advantage by gaining access to their guardian’s phone and changing the settings to grant themselves freedom, but such cases were rare.

Neither Apple nor Google were immediately available for comment. Apple CEO Tim Cook told U.S. public radio NPR yesterday that he had not heard of Absher but pledged to “take a look at it”.

Saudi women must have permission from a male relative to work, marry, and travel under the country’s strict guardianship system, which human rights groups have criticized as abusive.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has publicly called on both Apple and Google to remove it from their stores, arguing it promotes “abusive practices against women” in a Twitter post.

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Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, is ranked 138 of 144 states in the 2017 Global Gender Gap. Pixabay

However, Suad Abu-Dayyeh, a spokesman on the Middle East for women’s rights group Equality Now, raised doubts over whether the companies would take action.

“Power and money talks, unfortunately, without giving any attention to the violations of human rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“I really hope they take a concrete stand towards removing these apps but I am not really hopeful.”

Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, is ranked 138 of 144 states in the 2017 Global Gender Gap, a World Economic Forum study on how women fare in economic and political participation, health and education.

Its guardianship system came under fresh scrutiny after Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun fled from her family and was granted asylum in Canada in January.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman indicated last year he favored ending the guardianship system but stopped short of backing its annulment.

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But any moves toward gender equality have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrest and alleged torture of women’s rights activists as well as Muslim clerics. (VOA)

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EU Fines Google $1.7 bn for Unfair Online Ad Rules

This meant that publishers were prohibited from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages

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The Google name is displayed outside the company's office in London, Britain. VOA

The European Union’s antitrust regulators on Wednesday fined Google 1.49 billion euros ($1.7 billion) for abusing its dominance in the online search market by blocking rivals.

Google has abused its market dominance by imposing a number of restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites which prevented Google’s rivals from placing their search adverts on these websites, the European Commission (EC) said in a statement.

“Today the Commission has fined Google 1.49 billion euros for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts,” EC Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said.

It is the third EU fine for Google in just two years.

“Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” Vestager said.

The Commission said the fine which is equivalent to 1.29 per cent of Google’s turnover in 2018 takes account of the duration and gravity of the infringement.

“The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate – and consumers the benefits of competition,” Vestager said.

Websites such as newspaper websites, blogs or travel sites aggregators often have a search function embedded.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California.

When a user searches using this search function, the website delivers both search results and search adverts, which appear alongside the search result.

Through AdSense for Search, Google provides these search adverts to owners of “publisher” websites.

Google is an intermediary, like an advertising broker, between advertisers and website owners that want to profit from the space around their search results pages.

Therefore, AdSense for Search works as an online search advertising intermediation platform.

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Google was by far the strongest player in online search advertising intermediation in the European Economic Area (EEA), with a market share above 70 per cent from 2006 to 2016.

Google’s provision of online search advertising intermediation services to the most commercially important publishers took place via agreements that were individually negotiated.

The Commission reviewed hundreds of such agreements in the course of its investigation and found that starting in 2006, Google included exclusivity clauses in its contracts.

This meant that publishers were prohibited from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages, the European Commission said. (IANS)