Saudi Arabian woman-tracking app still in Apple, Google stores

The controversial app remains available for download in both stores.

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Shelby Brown (she/her/hers) is an editor for CNET's services team. She covers tips and tricks for apps, operating systems and devices, as well as mobile gaming and Apple Arcade news. Shelby also oversees Tech Tips coverage. Before joining CNET, she covered app news for Download.com and served as a freelancer for Louisville.com.
  • She received the Renau Writing Scholarship in 2016 from the University of Louisville's communication department.
Shelby Brown
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The Absher app enables Saudi citizens to access government services, including the tracking of women.

Screenshot by CNET from Google Play Store

Google appears to have decided not to remove Absher, a Saudi Arabian government app that allows men to track women, from the Play Store. 

Google reviewed the app and said it doesn't violate the company's terms and conditions. That comes from the office of Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who joined 13 other members of Congress in a letter calling for the app's removal last month. 

"The responses received so far from Apple and Google are unsatisfactory," Speier said in an emailed statement on Monday. "To say I'm disappointed in their failure to show a sustained commitment to human rights is an understatement. I will be following up on this issue with my colleagues."

A staff member for the congresswoman confirmed Monday that both companies responded to the letter. Apple said it was looking into the matter. Google's decision was reported earlier by Business Insider.

The Absher app lets Saudis apply for jobs and renew passports, resident cards and driver's licenses. One of the app's features lets men control the movement of women by granting or prohibiting travel permissions. The app can also send alerts if a woman uses her passport.

Last month, both Google and Apple said they were investigating whether Absher violated their app policies.

When CNET checked Monday, Absher was still available in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. Google and Apple didn't respond to requests for comment.

Originally published March 4 at 9:44 a.m. PT.
Update, at 12:44 p.m. PT: Adds confirmation from office of Rep. Jackie Speier.