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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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Here’s Why Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai Believes That Artificial Intelligence Needs To Be Regulated

Advanced AI which is beyond chat bots will soon be used to manipulate social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram

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The Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai stressed that "international alignment will be critical to making global standards work" on AI. Wikimedia Commons

Joining Microsoft President Brad Smith and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Monday called for new regulations for Artificial Intelligence (AI), saying the only question now is how to approach it.

Although new regulation is needed, “a cautious approach is required that might not see significant controls placed on AI,” Pichai who was last month took over as the CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in an editorial piece in The Financial Times.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. It is too important not to. The only question is how to approach it”.

“Companies such as ours cannot just build promising new technology and let market forces decide how it will be used. It is equally incumbent on us to make sure that technology is harnessed for good and available to everyone,” Pichai wrote.

According to CNET, the timing of the editorial coincides with a big push from Google to reveal some of the results of its own work in AI and bring tools it has developed out into the world.

The Alphabet CEO stressed that “international alignment will be critical to making global standards work” on AI.

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Joining Microsoft President Brad Smith and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Monday called for new regulations for Artificial Intelligence (AI), saying the only question now is how to approach it. Wikimedia Commons

We need to take a “principled approach to applying AI, said the company, while offering Google’s “expertise, experience and tools.”

“We need to be clear-eyed about what could go wrong,” he said.

His comments come as lawmakers and governments globally are considering to limit the use of AI in fields such as face recognition system – an issue close to Microsoft President Brad Smith’s heart who has often criticized the technology, urging governments to enact legislation regarding the technology.

“Unless we act, we risk waking up five years from now to find that facial recognition services have spread in ways that exacerbate societal issues,” said Smith.

Advanced AI which is beyond chat bots will soon be used to manipulate social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned recently.

In his famous debate with former Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma, Musk entered into a lassic argument over the capabilities of emerging technologies like AI.

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Although new regulation is needed, “a cautious approach is required that might not see significant controls placed on AI,” Sundar Pichai who was last month took over as the CEO of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, in an editorial piece in The Financial Times. Pixabay

Musk said that computers will one day surpass humans in “every single way”. He has predicted that a single company that develops “God-like super intelligence” might achieve world domination.

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If not regulated or controlled soon, AI could become an “immortal dictator” and there will be no escape for humans, the SpaceX CEO had warned. (IANS)