People are leaving damning one-star reviews for a Saudi government app on Google Play and the App Store, because it helps men restrict where women go outside the country.
Absher is mostly a government app for managing day-to-day tasks, but it's also where men grant and take away permission for women to exit the country. This is required under Saudi Arabia's Islamic guardianship laws.
The app was slammed by US Sen. Ron Wyden, Democratic Party Caucus vice chair Katherine Clark, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. Following the criticism, people began rating it one star, reporting it, and criticizing Google and Apple for abetting the restriction on women's freedom.
Absher has been downloaded 4.2 million times from iOS devices and 5 million times via Google Play, the app intelligence firm Apptopia told INSIDER.
Absher is listed on Google Play and the App Store under the "Productivity" category.
The Saudi Ministry of the Interior and the Saudi Embassies in London and Washington did not respond when approached by INSIDER for comment.
INSIDER was first media outlet to report in-depth on Absher, prompting Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to criticize Google and Apple for hosting the app on their stores.
After other international news organisations began to cover the criticism, US Senator Ron Wyden wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Monday to demand they pull the app.
Late on Monday, when National Public Radio (NPR) put the criticism to Cook, he said: "I haven't heard about it. But obviously we'll take a look at it if that's the case."
On Wednesday, Google said they were looking into the app.
The app has been downloaded 4.2 million times on the App Store and 5 million times on Google Play since launching in mid-2015, according to Apptopia.
92% of installs happened in Saudi Arabia but nearly 430,000 (5.5% ) have come from within the US, app researchers Sensor Tower told INSIDER.
A 2017 estimate from the US Census Bureau lists 82,201 Saudi nationals as living in the US.
Apple and Google have not responded to repeated requests for comment from INSIDER.
The Saudi Interior Ministry has now responded to the wave of negative media coverage, criticizing attempts to "politicize" the issue. Here's the full statement:
The Saudi Press Agency wrote: "An official source at Interior Ministry said, in a repose of what is being circulated about the application of services (Absher), that these allegations aim to disable the benefits of more than 160 different procedural services to all members of the society provided by the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabian to the citizens and residents, including women, the elderly, and people with special needs."
"The Ministry strongly condemns the systematic campaign aimed at questioning the purpose of (Abshar) services, which is provided on smart phones to facilitate the services to its beneficiaries."
"The Ministry of Interior at the same time confirms its rejection of the attempts to politicize the systematic use of technical instruments which represent legitimate rights to the users, and its keenness to protect the interests of the beneficiaries of its services."
Original story here.