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I am surprised that no-one has brought up a neutrality argument yet.

The app is legal within Saudi Arabia and in fact published by their government.

Are we to take down any app which violates anyone’s morals? Or just the morals of particular countries? If an app is blasphemous by the standards of say Mormonism or Islam, should we take it down? After everyone is done, how many apps will be left?

If we enforce some morals and not others in our app stores, who exactly do we choose as the arbiters of morality? U.S. public opinion? Chinese public opinion? Maybe the U.N?

Just to be clear I’d prefer this app not exist, and I would not be unhappy if it gets “unpublished”. I also think it would be cool if the major platforms just came out and made an unambiguous statement on what they will and won’t stand for.






Serious question: Would you be willing to make this same argument for a (hypothetical) Apartheid-era app that enabled whites to manage blacks?

I think it's pretty reasonable for the court of modern political opinion to pass judgement on the more egregious examples of injustice in the world. Yes, morality is relative, but there's a strong majority opinion on this - especially in the countries that build the technology platforms we're talking about.

Apple & Google should yank the apps, and we should hold their feet to the fire until they do.


I think Google should yank the app. I think Apple should be forced to carry the app or open their platform. Android users can install whatever they want. Apple should not be in a position to prevent iPhone users from doing the same.

To me if BMW said "You can buy this car but you're not allowed to drive to to Compton Los Angeles". The answer should not be "If you want to drive to Compton buy some other brand". It should be "Those terms are Illegal"

Unlike Google, Apple claims total dominion over what apps you can run on your iOS device. They have that control over 1.3 billion devices. That the largest amount of censorship control ever in the hands of few people. Political apps are blocked. Sex positive porn apps are blocked. I get that Apple shouldn't be forced to carry those apps on their store but until they provide alternatives I think they're in the wrong.

People generally respond to this they want Apple to censor their apps. That's not an argument for not opening the platform. You are always free to install only Apple approved apps regardless of if the platform is open or not.


if BMW decided to limit their cars to roads approved by BMW, that’s their prerogative. Who are you to tell a private company what products they’re allowed to make? The correct solution is for consumers to buy the product that suits their needs.

It’s worth pointing out that the BMW approved roads have much better fatality statistics than the unapproved roads, and there’s almost guaranteed to be an approved road that goes within minutes of where you want to go anyway. Oh and some of those approved roads are exclusive to BMW and they’re really well made.

Or you can get the Jeep Cherokee, which drives really well on that dirt track.


What? If I buy the car, I own the car. BMW has no say in where I drive it.

I could only see this argument if I was borrowing / leasing the car from BMW.

You'd have to change what ownership means for this to make sense.


In this hypothetical I'm not saying that you wouldn't have the right to hack your BMW to let it drive on any road, if you are able to. But BMW aren't obliged to make it drive every road by default, nor are they obliged to make it easy to hack.

And lest you think this is an absurd example, we're already heading down this exact path with drones, of which many now default to being geo-fenced from flying in restricted zones. It won't be long before these restrictions become nominally impossible for laypeople to switch off without some kind of security key.


It depends on what you sign when you buy it. You may very well buy the right to drive the car but not the car itself (like a leasing where you don’t actually own the car until fully paid).

If you buy a Blu-Ray player it will only play approved disks. Heck, the iPhone can only run iOS.

> I think Apple should be forced to carry the app > I get that Apple shouldn't be forced to carry those apps

This is a confusing stance.


> Apple claims total dominion over what apps you can run on your iOS device

This stopped being true some years ago. You can build any app you wish from source and Xcode will sign it and you can run it on your iOS device—no approval or payment required.


> no approval or payment required

If you don't have a paid developer license it will silently be uninstalled after 7 days.


Yupp, because so many apps are open source.

Apple isn’t stopping anyone from open-sourcing their apps.

That's an interesting argument you bring up here. Why aren't more people open-sourcing their apps? Especially with a client-server architecture, you can simply keep the server part closed. I'm an iOS developer, but there's usually not all that much of interest in the iOS client.

Serious question: Where do you start and where do you end then with majority opinions? If this app is a clear case, how about Erdogan‘s secret police app? So if Islamism isn‘t okay, what about Zionism? Just Israel’s right to defend itself or not so sure anymore?

Who holds Googles and Facebooks feet to the fire for collaborating with PRISM, giving your nude selfies to NSA personnel? [1]

Is there a majority opinion this is okay if some amount of terrorism or "terrorism" (depending who you ask) is thwarted?

IMHO, the answer here is there‘s simply no easy answers here, and if there‘s just one thing to learn, it‘s that the world is a place with a lit of different opinions and values.

[1] https://www.dailydot.com/layer8/snowden-nude-sexually-compro...


> Would you be willing to make this same argument for a (hypothetical) Apartheid-era app that enabled whites to manage blacks?

Yes (but only begrudgingly). Saudi Arabia is a sovereign nation. That means within their borders they can do as they please, even if we don't like what they do.

We fought one of the most devastating wars in history (the 30 years war [1]) trying to control what other people think, and at the end everyone agreed that sovereignty is a great concept [2][3].

Using our influence over Apple and Google to project power against Saudi Arabia and try to force them to agree to different moral norms is in stark contrast to the idea of sovereignty and signals to everyone else that that kind of behaviour is ok. That's how you get cold and hot wars.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years'_War

2: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_of_Westphalia

3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westphalian_sovereignty


> Using our influence over Apple and Google to project power against Saudi Arabia and try to force them to agree to different moral norms is in stark contrast to the idea of sovereignty and signals to everyone else that that kind of behaviour is ok.

On the other hand, not using our influence over Apple and Google to project power against Saudi Arabia and try to force them to agree to different moral norms signals that their norms (and the behaviour they cause and justify) are ok. And that's how you get millions of women horribly mistreated.

Sovereignty may be a great concept, but not when you use it to justify and normalize abuse. I feel like that should be condemned and not tolerated under any circumstances.


How do we draw the line in what norms to enforce? And who determines that those norms are actually better than the ones in place? It seems like this would be a great way for multinational corporations to become cultural and moral enforcers, which causes bad incentives to influence people towards consumption above all else.

I simultaneously feel like, in this particular case, neither are the corporations themselves the cultural and moral enforcers, nor is deciding on where to draw the line on which norms to enforce relevant.

The former because the rights groups which criticize the corporations are the ones driving the supposed change and enforcing their own morality. Rights groups are probably better moral arbiters than corporations, on account of there being less conflict of interest. And the latter because, while the line can definitely be very hard to trace in various, more ambiguous situations, I really don't think this specific case is one of those. It feels like a slippery slope argument to me, specifically: "If we enforce this, what else are we going to end up enforcing?"


Doesn't take rocket science. Are people being directly harmed by this product ? The answer in this case is clearly yes. Take down the app immediately.

Freedom of speech is one thing. This app is _specifically_ created to harm women who want refuge.


I highly suspect "directly harmed" is a moral judgement, not an objective measure.

If female genital mutilation "direct harm"? If yes, does the same apply to circumcision of males? If yes, is denying jewish people a religious practise (and thus potentially entry to heaven) "direct harm"? Different people will answer this very differently, even in the same country and culture.

More applicable to this case: Is it ok for parents to see where their children are? Is ist ok for parents to get an alert when their children cross a geofence? If in a culture the husband is viewed as the guardian of his wife, is it ok if the husband uses the same app for his wife?

Note that I don't endorse any of these things, I'm simply saying that "are people being directly harmed by this product" is sometimes a deep philosophical or psychological question that is arguably harder than rocket science.


These questions are easy to answer.

If female genital mutilation "direct harm"? Yes.

does the same apply to circumcision of males? Not to the same extent, because the harm is less - despite using the same word, cutting off the foreskin is objectively less harmful than cutting off the clitoris.

However, this is an area where the prevailing opinion is shifting as we speak. Male circumcision used to be normal (in the US), now it's considered in most polite circles to be somewhere between antiquated and barbaric. The loudest argument in favor seems to be "it's my religious tradition!" but ask the mormons how that argument faired WRT plural marriage and excluding blacks. Public opinion shifts slowly but it's not hard to imagine a future where even religion doesn't cut it as an excuse for cutting off bits of a baby's junk. We may revisit this question in a few more decades.

Is it ok for parents to see where their children are? Yes. Parents in every modern society are granted extremely broad powers over their children.

If in a culture the husband is viewed as the guardian of his wife, is it ok if the husband uses the same app for his wife? No. Women are not property. That's the moral judgement of modern society. Cultures which violate this moral judgement should do so without our help.

These are not thorny issues or deeply philosophical problems.


That description glosses over the context and compare female circumcision that is conducted in one area of the world with male circumcision of a complete different area of the world, creating the conclusion that whats matter is what bit get cut off.

If we look at African culture, which is the most common place for female circumcision, we find that male circumcision is quite different from what people might expect in both execution and purpose. The boys are much older, and the ritual is done in part to test the "warriors" ability to withstand pain. A boy who cries out in pain brings great dishonor to his family, and of course no sedative is applied. It is ritualized torture with religious attributes.

This does not make US and EU style of male circumcision more moral, but it does mean that when you say that "the harm is less" with circumcision of males, what we are saying is that ritualized torture is not as bad as cutting off the clitoris. I object to that. male circumcision in nations that practice female circumcision is one of the worst form of barbaric acts one human can do to an other human, and for the worst reasons.


Living in constant fear because of your gender and where you were born is direct harm. Being controlled by the opposite gender is a direct harm. Not being able to become educated because you are female is a direct harm to them AND men(and those in between).

But in this case why stop half way? Why sell them a phone (the OS) in the first place? Isn’t this (just like the app) condoning the behavior? Isn’t being their ally the same? Doing business with them in general?

Protesting the immoral behavior only by means that don’t really hurt your own bottom line is not actually doing much except cement the hypocrisy.


There are books on direct harm, and robots who force you to quit smoking.

For better or worse multinational corporations are already widely adapting that role. See: the “transgender bathroom bill” mess where many corporations dropped their support for the state in a concentrated effort to get the bill repealed. Even if the corp’s leadership is not agitating in such a way, then its employees probably are in the shape of Employee Resource Groups.

> Saudi Arabia is a sovereign nation. That means within their borders they can do as they please, even if we don't like what they do.

Sure, but no western agent is obliged to comply with the moral standards of Saudi Arabia, or any other country to that matter.

Apple, Google are complacent because they want to do business in Saudi Arabia. They're favoring profit over enforcing western morality within their operations abroad, and will continue to do so as long as they don't get too much scrutiny.


You are right, no western agent is being obliged here..

The argument is a neutrality one, essentially that Google and Apple should not be enforcing morality here or abroad.

Should we also just drop sanctions and ban exports to these nations while we're at it?


I was pointing out that the argument of sovereignty is flawed, since companies such as Apple and Google can at any time choose to respectfully withdraw their operations in Saudi Arabia if they feel their products and services are being used to curtail human rights.

Sovereignty in its own right cannot be used to justify complacency.


No, they can’t “just withdraw” without a compelling business reason because their leadership answers to their shareholders.

Which are partially Saudi. Good thing though there are competitors on the market, who dont give a damn on morals. Good thing those giants interwined buisness and morals, and now can be forced to retreat out of markets.

I like the idea that the Peace of Westphalia somehow is endangered by Apple or Google deciding to make business decisions that pertain to Saudi Arabia. I'm also enjoying your Total Commitment to this principle, extending to guarded support for the hypothetical "Apartheid Black Management App".

The fact that you're talking in hushed tones of reverence about the glorious principle of sovereignty in a discussion of Saudi Arabia is really just the icing on the cake.


You didn't provide any actual arguments, instead just dismissing what I said out of hand (in a needlessly snarky way).

What exactly are you trying to say? This post is nothing but empty snark. For example, are you trying to say that Saudi Arabia is not a sovereign nation?

[flagged]


you don't seem to be able to read any meaning

The GP comment (about the Peace of Westphalia) is bananas and the dementors might be a little uptight when it comes 'snark' but you're way past snark - 'lol, reading comprehension much' is not snark it's just crappy namecalling. You should edit it out.


I am not overly convinced that paraphasing what I said to be way snarkier than it is, then referring to it as "crappy namecalling" is entirely valid.

You have even truncated my original quote to make it seem snarkier:

"to the point that you don't seem to be able to read any meaning into anything that seems a little snarky" -> "you don't seem to be able to read any meaning"

What I find tiresome is the overuse of the word 'snark' on HN to mean 'you disagreed with me but didn't show my arguments the hushed reverence of the drawing room'. As a result, every conversation at HN rapidly silts up with people straight-facedly raising disingenuous absurdities. We didn't quite make it to the Nazis, but seriously? "Apartheid-era South Africa should have been left alone because something something Westphalia."

You are exactly right: the comment is bananas. It is past due that it should be allowed to call a comment 'bananas' on HN without people crying out for teacher to come Save Them From The Snark.


I'm not a huge fan of snark as a stand-in for everything non-bland either. But that's beside the point, when you start telling people how they are incapable of reading or absorbing your great insight (which is basically what both of your responding comments say), you're past snark and into snarl.

Maybe it's a LaRouche-ist.

This is one of the many reason why China is blocking foreign digital platforms and rolls out their own copies.

This way they have complete control of praticing their own norms and policies on their platform without large foreign compines saying what they should and shouldn't do.


Are you not arguing and attempting to impose a stance on others right now? You don’t know which countries we are from and if our governments are aligned.

There’s a thing called human rights and we should all stand up for them.


I feel like the only reason anyone is making this “but they are sovereign” argument is because the discrimination is in this instance against women and not against people who wish to use a compiler or run a specific OS kernel.

I wish people could see injustice as unjust even if they are not in the targeted group.


That's a poor analogy, because in apartheid, individual black people did not have individual white "guardians" responsible for supervising their movements and behavior.

Would you be willing to make the same argument you're making for a similar app that allows parents to supervise their children? Would it depend on the age of the child in question?

And, for a more sticky question: even in the case of this app, does the consent of the supervised woman matter? Or are we willing to make the stronger claim that Saudi women are incapable of consent because they live in a strongly patriarchal society? Should we extend the same treatment to other instances of gender-specific religious and cultural practices?


It's not a perfect analogy; a "slave management app" just seemed overly anachronistic. I think the point is clear enough.

Would you be willing to make the same argument you're making for a similar app that allows parents to supervise their children?

Parents get broad supervisory powers over their children. That seems pretty universal and uncontroversial.

Would it depend on the age of the child in question?

Of course. The exact age of majority is not agreed upon even among the most progressive societies. I think we can all agree that parents should be able to make travel decisions for a 12yo. A 17yo is more complicated.

does the consent of the supervised woman matter?

This is a specious line of argument, since the app is being used against women who do not consent.


I wouldn't object if Apple and Google did withdraw the app because of these concerns, but there are still legitimate concerns about the degree to which commercial involvement in places with significantly different cultural values should be affected by cultural differences.

Ouch. There’s been a lot to think about over the course of this thread.

I think South Africa is a good example because there were wide ranging trade sanctions against them during Apartheid which could have supported actions such as yanking government apps as a matter of international agreement.

Overall though I don’t think it’s a good idea for FAANG companies to unilaterally wade into foreign policy or cultural influence even more than they already do.

Other commenters have made some good points that the platforms are already very not neutral, pointing to adult apps and arbitrary TOS violations as app store death penalty.

I agree that this is true but I remain broadly opposed to the idea that we must stop others from running code that we don’t like. Overall it doesn’t seem like the right mechanism to do politics.


I think the more important question is: whose "modern political opinion" is the decisive one. Notice that even relatively politically close countries have diverting understanding of important cultural issues.

Think about sex-related subcultures in Japan and, say, US.


What sex-related subcultures in Japan are you talking about?

Not OP, but possibly illustrated child porn? Perfectly legal in Japan if censored correctly, illegal in France, Germany and other countries. See also the Mastodon and Pawoo split.

The issue with such an app is not the fact that it is being hosted but rather the fact it was created. Going after amazon will not change the fact that the Sauds think this app is moral. In fact it only distracts from the issue. Amazon is a company and wants profit. Saudi arabia is a sovereign country, which means it is the only entity involved that can truly enforce its morality. That anyone would think to first criticize Amazon is somewhat ridiculous in this context

What do you think of companies that used slave labour legally or use child labour legally? They want profit, and it’s legal. Does that make it ok?

It’s not that Amazon is primarily culpable, it is that a person in the US has more leverage, however minimal, over Amazon than over the Saudi king.

This is a typical argument from 'neutral principles'.In this kind of thinking, the notion of 'being fair to everyone in a principled fashion that is easily and mechanistically describable' is more important than say, the notion of 'not oppressing women, even if the Saudis think it's OK'.

This is itself a value judgement and comes down to your opinion. Like the old joke about turtles, it's opinions all the way down.

It's also fairly obviously absurd; there are countries where public opinion and even the legal system are pretty much OK with rounding up gays and beating them up, or worse. You have to have a pretty hefty commitment to neutral principles to think that Apple and Google should be OK with the "Let's Beat Up a Batty Boy" app because it's OK in some country...


I'm trying to understand the 'neutral principles' line of thinking here. Obviously, the situation with this app seems straightforward on the surface (the app is immoral, it violates human rights), but articulating the reality of the situation is complex and requires nuance. Say I don't want to argue from 'neutral principles' but I still want to give other people's value systems a fair trial? Then I would consider things like the intentions and outcomes, right? Maybe there's a good reason that women in Saudi Arabia have legal guardians?

> .. but I still want to give other people's value systems a fair trial?

Why?

That's a moral judgement like any other ("we should exercise fairness and take seriously any system of values that operates within a recognized national boundary circa 2019"). It would suggest you are committed to that principle above other ones, like "the right of women to self-determination". If that's a decision you want to make, knock yourself out, but it leads to rather strange situations.

Note that I made it sound extra absurd by limiting in time and to national boundaries; but conversely I could take off that limit and have you giving Aztec human sacrifice fair consideration ("strokes beard... well, actually, given population pressures... ummmn... ").

You're still flailing around looking for neutral principles: considering "intentions and outcomes" doesn't get you out of trouble as who is to say what intentions and outcomes are good?

A homophobe in Uganda or Russia might claim that their intentions are "save our young people from the gays" and their desired outcomes are "now all the gays are dead or hiding" as a Good Thing; they would not recognize your principles ("don't harm innocent people for no reason") as valid.

In the end it just comes down to 'fighting your corner'. There is no magical conjuration trick that will make our values objectively better in some way that stands outside our values. Who cares?


> Maybe there's a good reason that women in Saudi Arabia have legal guardians?

I urge you to rethink your comment.


You did not address anything OP raised. Maybe read this https://www.cloudflare.com/cloudflare-criticism/ (it's short, concise and relevant) and try to articulate your stance here - who should have the authority to take these subjective moral decisions?

[edit: sorry it's not short at all, but self-repeating so just read a few and you're done]


I reread everything from OP, and everything from my post, and think I addressed it well enough. Both OP and many of the critics of Cloudflare are casting around, like the philosophical equivalent of a dog with a bucket on its head, hoping that the uninteresting question of "is there some magic neutral principle that will allow us to operate from day to day without making subjective moral decisions" (narrator: "there isn't") will be conveniently resolved with some appeal to local law, free speech absolutism, slippery slope fallacies, catchy Latin slogans, etc.

My stance here is that everyone has to make these subjective moral decisions all the time and that the hope that we can pull a neutral principle out of our ass and Resolve Everything is itself a moral decision and not exempt from moral criticism. It's just yet another value judgement: specifically in the Cloudflare case, it's that "the abstract neutral principle of free speech and the idea that companies shouldn't interfere with who they host" is more important than "maybe we shouldn't let those assholes from the Daily Stormer go about their business with impunity". I'm OK with you believing that if you want to, but it's just as much of a subjective moral decision to prioritize a quest for neutral principle over making your own ad hoc moral decisions (which you will wind up doing anyhow).

In short, it's subjectivity all the way down, so you may as well 'fight your corner'.


The narrative CloudFlares' CEO used is:

>"is it the right place for tech companies to be regulating the Internet... what I know is not the right answer is that a cabal of ten tech executives with names like Matthew, Mark, Jack, ... Jeff are the ones choosing what content goes online and what content doesn't go online."

I'm not sure the dog-in-a-bucket analogy holds. He has a moral stance, but he's not sure he should be exercising it.


Philosophically, he is a dog-in-a-bucket. Either be moral or don't; you don't get extra credit for agonizing a bit on the decision and suggesting that somewhere there might be some really good solution ("maybe there will be a broad multi-constituency committee of wise people who can decide for all of us who gets to be on the internet"?).

I'm sure as a businessman he knows exactly what he's doing. Some Pilate-level hand-washing ("I don't want to make this judgement, you know") is just good business - you can blunt some of the criticism from the Free Speech Absolutists ("Hey guys, I'm uncomfortable too!") while also saying farewell to your least favorite customer, the Daily Stormer. Putting the criticism up is also pretty astute in this regard.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is probably a good place to start.

https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ind...


There are so many things that are iffy but do not violate these.

That's not the target standard, that's a basic baseline. When you're worried about violating neutrality by denying service based on potentially subjective moral judgements, using at least the low bar of an almost-universally accepted set of rights is probably a good place to start.

> Are we to take down any app which violates anyone’s morals?

Yet all adult apps are banned, just because as US companies morals when it comes to sexual content are just very Disneyesque in that country. Even for 18+ year olds.


Yep. The point at which Google and Apple don't both ban apps even aimed at sexual minorities like kink people (even just dating apps) is the point they can cry that they don't make moral judgements.

They do, and they've decided that consenting adult's sexual preferences are worse than an app that allows a dystopian regime to track the movement of women so abusive men can control them.

That's messed up.


> Are we to take down any app which violates anyone’s morals? Or just the morals of particular countries? If an app is blasphemous by the standards of say Mormonism or Islam, should we take it down? After everyone is done, how many apps will be left?

Since Apple & Google created a walled garden, any damage the apps can do fall into their responsibility. If they wanted to avoid this responsibility, they should have created an open platform.


Pornographie is legal in the US, yet you won't find any of those apps in the app stores.

Either you are neutral or you take full responsibility of what you offer in your walled garden. You can't have it both ways.


No, it is not full or none, that is ridiculous. You are allowed to have a line that you will not cross.

How is it reasonable that "this line that you will not cross" is pornography and not "an app that tracks and controls Saudi Arabian women"?

It would be ironic if the USA government tried to regulate or fine Google on this, while at the same time selling heavy weaponry to SA.

It's reasonable because it's their own decision to make.

What you (or any of us) think about it in moral or ethic terms, is irrelevant.


Not if you want neutral carrier protection under the law. As soon as you start to pick and choose you loose that protection and you are liable for illegal content on your service.

What would phone service be like if the carrier could decide who gets to use it and who doesn't? They are not held responsible for criminals using phones but if they decided who gets to use it they would be liable.


And they do. But what exactly is that line. Prurient content that empowers people? Banned. Content that literally allows control over non-consenting individuals based on their gender? Accepted.

This is like a serial killer who campaigns against littering. They have a line they won't cross, but we shouldn't accept it.


Counterpoint: Nobody owes the Saudis a publishing platform to push their app. If they want to fully self host it on servers within the geographical borders of the kingdom, they can. Good luck getting it to install on the majority of non-rooted iOS and Android devices.

I would encourage anyone running any 'cloud' based services for the Saudi government to discontinue serving them as soon as possible. This runs the gamut from basic DNS hosting, VM hosting (google/AWS/azure/whatever), email and managed service hosting (office365), everything.

They're welcome to have a go at fully self hosting everything for their own citizens on their own ISPs, inside the kingdom, with netblocks they don't advertise to BGP upstreams.


Nobody owes you anything either. I don't like your opinion. Your internet access will be cut tomorrow. Apple and Google ban you from using their phones. You are welcome to create, manage and host your own infrastructure though. Good luck!

Oh wait, most of the AS around you also prefer not to route your traffic. And your domain? Nah, DNS is also at their providers' whim and you are on a very popular blacklist.


Current evidence shows that the AS that I run backbone engineering for have hundreds of peers at some of the world's largest IX points, and a number of highly reliable upstream transits. I get the point of your comment, but the reason why my AS is not shunned by the global Internet community is that we're responsible citizens. Unlike some other ISPs that I won't bother naming.

Now, the bar to being a halfway decent and ethical ISP is not really so high these days. You have to actually go to extra effort and make things intentionally more complicated to fuck with your customers' traffic.

In North America, at least, part of that includes not censoring content and not even contemplating doing something like the Saudis do. I can guarantee you that if the C-level executives at my company were asked to implement something that was grossly in violation of the US constitution/bill or rights, Canadian charter of rights and freedoms, or similar concepts upholding the rule of law, they would refuse.

I feel for the people who run telecom and ISPs in Saudi Arabia, who need to implement technical solutions at the whim of a corrupt hereditary monarchy.

I debated whether it was even worth my time to write this comment, since your argument is weak and theoretical. Reality is that major ISPs don't cut each other off for arbitrary reasons. But I'd bet $5 you're not involved in the practical day to day logistics of things like establishing 100GbE PNIs between major ASes.


>Under Saudi law, every woman has a legal "guardian" who can restrict her travel to specific airports and routes, and get automated alerts when they cross borders.

What neutral argument do you really wish to have? The fact that their legal system is messed up won't make me say "oh, but by law you are not allowed...".


I think the parent poster’s point is that that’s a very western perspective of morality. Imagine if the tables were turned, and the apprent promiscuity promoted by apps like Tinder was deemed immoral by a country that’s more conservative. Should that app be pulled globally as a result?

To them the fact that we allow so much casually dating could be (and in middle eastern cultures often is) viewed as “wrong”.


I understand completely the parent's point of view, because I am confronted with hundreds of people like that on a daily basis. To be honest? I am tired of justifying insanity, despite the legal point of view, and despite the fact that tables are not turned. I am not a lawyer and I am not sitting at a round table, and I have opinions. And my opinion is that due to this "oh, by law, or by religion" we are throwing away every sort of freedom and respect our parents and grandparents fought so hard so that we could today give them for granted.

Tell me one woman in this world that likes to be treated less than a car to rent (take a look at the website, you even have to justify where to go and for how long. Basically with car2go a car is treated with more respect than a human being). But as someone might argue, it's not up to me to judge. Thankfully I live in a country that treats everyone with respect.


> Thankfully I live in a country that treats everyone with respect.

I'm intrigued as to which country this is... How are immigrants treated in your country? People working minimum wage jobs? Transsexuals?


When you are employed by a company, you are treated 'like a car to rent', yet nobody seems to have an issue with it.

At some point in the future, people will look back at this time and consider it immoral that companies could rent people by the hour.

Likewise, people in many non-western cultures do not have any issue with having a guardian 'look after' you, in return for a payment to your family.

If the people don't see an issue with it, why should some foreign company come in and decide to ban it?


> When you are employed by a company, you are treated 'like a car to rent', yet nobody seems to have an issue with it.

Yeah, you can quit whenever you want. It's not like you were born into your company and have no other choice but to go there every day of your life.


Sorry, I miss completely the point.

> At some point in the future

Morality changes, opinions too, and laws too. What then? Should we legalize pedophiles so that we can claim we are an open society and future-proof?

> When you are employed by a company, you are treated 'like a car to rent', yet nobody seems to have an issue with it.

That's work, that's life - if that goes against human rights, yes, I agree, I wish I was rich without doing s*. :)


Well, I guess that we won't get to use all that great Saudi tech then. What a shame.

In the end it comes down to the fact that Western countries have the app stores. Enthusiasts for various middle-brow airport Big Ideas books can probably advance about a million different theories (many even plausible) that explain why these companies wind up being from California and not Saudi Arabia or Uganda.

As far as I'm concerned, if you're busy promulgating the morals of Saudi Arabia, while ensconced comfortably in California, you've got it coming when your friends and neighbours start pissing on your shoes. Tech companies make decisions all the time about apps that go well beyond the strict letter of the law in countries in which they operate (Exhibit A: adult content).


US public opinion. Why? Because Apple and Google are both American companies, and their respective stores are hosted in US.

If Saudis don't like it, they can roll their own, without our assistance, and without us profiting from any of it.


> If Saudis don't like it, they can roll their own, without our assistance, and without us profiting from any of it.

Be careful what you wish for. They have the money to do it. Cornering a market isn't that hard if you're doing it for strategic reasons rather than to turn a profit. And then what? We have to petition the Saudis to approve our apps?

Maybe it would be better if we didn't have a central party that controls everything for everybody, regardless of who it is.


It would be, but the walled gardens that we have are not propped up by any legislation, so they're creations of the market. Enough people like them that they keep running.

Thus, to prevent them, you will need regulation - which stops at the border. Saudi government will have their own, and you can be sure that it'll be the kind that enables what they want to do.

On the other hand, we can boycott and embargo them. Much good that money will do them if nobody will touch it, or if the products developed with it are banned from most well-paying markets.


> It would be, but the walled gardens that we have are not propped up by any legislation, so they're creations of the market. Enough people like them that they keep running.

That would be an argument if people were given the independent choice, but the choice is tied to the phone you buy. It's not much of a choice if both of the major platforms are tied to a walled garden and the alternatives are esoteric enough that most people aren't even aware they exist.

And it is regulation keeping them that way. Third parties would sell iPhones modified to add competing app stores if there weren't laws preventing it. To say nothing of the lack of antitrust enforcement as yet -- markets don't work when there is insufficient competition.

> On the other hand, we can boycott and embargo them. Much good that money will do them if nobody will touch it, or if the products developed with it are banned from most well-paying markets.

Then they would reciprocate, oil prices would skyrocket and the dollar would fail as the reserve currency, both because of the oil market and because other countries wouldn't want to accept it if US foreign policy becomes to seize them back from a country where they were used to make trillions in purchases over decades.

You could say "and we could nuke them" with about the same probability of that actually happening.

And what would you even use to justify it, while we continue to do business with China and a dozen other countries with similarly problematic records?


Taking down "blasphemous" content is immoral. More generally, allowing religiously-based morals to restrict the freedoms of those who aren't willing participants is immoral.

Building and distributing or in any way being involved in the technology to track women in SA makes you directly responsible for the abuse that happens as a result.

Technology companies have a responsibility that comes with the power they enable, true it is very difficult to exercise properly, but in some cases it is very clear what is right and wrong.


> If we enforce some morals and not others in our app stores, who exactly do we choose as the arbiters of morality? U.S. public opinion? Chinese public opinion? Maybe the U.N?

I agree that not every situation is this easy to decide but this one -- women as chattel -- seems rather staightforward.

Corporations claim free speech rights (via corporate personhood) all the time. Not using those rights in this case seems to be quite a statement.


>seems rather staightforward.

So your entire argument is based on your personal subjective valuation that it is straightforward.

The idea that a homosexual should be thrown from a bridge onto an oncoming train is as straightforward to a good many people as this is to you.

What you are invoking here is really 'US public opinion' or its related 'western world public opinion' circa. 2019.

If this is basically all the substance of your argument, then your position is no better than the moslem over there that thinks blasphemer should be beheaded.


Are you seriously saying that there are two sides to the whether women are chattel or not?

What's funny is that your specious analogies try to equate this argument -- for more freedom for the Saudi women -- to others where people's freedoms are being restricted.

Might I suggest you have another go at remedial logic.


Just because you can't define an objective standard doesn't mean all ethical systems are equally good. Personally I would take what is acceptable in the US/Europe over what's acceptable in the middle east.

If we enforce some morals and not others in our app stores, who exactly do we choose as the arbiters of morality

Just... wow. This app is literally designed to allow men to enforce morals on women.


They already block porn because it's sensitive in the US. Games where you shoot people in the head or drive people over is okay though. I can't see how this differs.

Are you saying you don't see the difference between video games, and an app that is meant to harm/control actual living human beings?

No that is not what I am saying. I am for the ban of this app since they already block less offensive things like porn.

It would be double standard to allow a muslim app to control real human beings but block porn.


For apple we could use the precedent https://www.juggleware.com/blog/2008/09/steve-jobs-writes-ba...

as surely this app is offensive to not less than 50% of customers.


True, but it can be difficult for public relation on one side to censor LEGAL speech you disagree with locally (here in the US), and yet accept worse conduct remote. Same argument about Google in China.

Though I guess it only make sense if you consider that both practice bring profits in.


>If we enforce some morals and not others in our app stores, who exactly do we choose as the arbiters of morality?

Apple and Google are, and their moral guideline is money. They are in the business of making money. If the content seems close enough to illegal and small enough revenue to not be worth investigating it, or if the content is legal but costs more to host than it brings in due to backlash, it will be censored. I would even guess that content that is illegal but brings in enough money won't be banned (unless a court order comes in that isn't worth the cost to fight).

One can just look at Reddit's history of banning content and see that it bans things not based on morals or laws but on when it stopped being a revenue generation. The allowed their most popular sub-reddit for years until moral outrage grew due to a news investigation, and then banned it under the guise of being illegal and protecting minors (despite the content not being illegal, as the federal government wouldn't have allowed to continue operating had it been).

Don't Apple and Google already block plenty of legal content they don't want to deal with? Consumers should force them to explain why they are willing to deal with this specific content.


We blame companies for helping catch Chinese or Saudi etc dissidents too. We blame them when they help catching human rights activists.

Generally speaking, tolerance goes from here to there.


I think you're spot on with your UN suggestion. I mean, didn't we (the world) establish the concept of human rights, exactly as an answer to this problem of bias? I think we could go a long way, if we simply required our technology to abide by the international human rights convention.

Of course this might be a problem for a lot more Apps than the Saudi women's-tracker.


Google shut down support for Project Maven, which was just running code in their cloud at retail prices. If you can impose your morality in a way that prevents the defense of the constitution of the country in which your company is incorporated, I don't see what the issue is with imposing your morality on a dictatorial foreign government.

For servers based in the USA or for crimes such as slavery facilitated by entities from the USA, yes USAmerican moral is the guidance.

It's difficult to keep up segregation in a world growing together. I mean segregation of morals, though quite ironically the ambiguity works swell.


I think we have to take a different stance. If you think a company is anathema for some position they take or product they offer, then stop supporting them. Boycott all Apple and/or Google products. Sell their stock out of your retirement holdings. Shed a light to others explaining why they should care and hope they do the same.

I also agree (as posted below) that a good place to start is the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We've collective agreed that this is a minimum line and should require all companies and countries to meet or exceed these requirements.


This is less about morals than it is about modern Western Civilization, and human rights. Given how Google and Apple are products of modern Western Civilization that benefits from human rights, it's a fair demand to expect these companies to call out blatant violations by powerful Nations on the same.

After all, if Saudi Arabia is unapologetic about Khashogi, or women's rights and defiant enough to break ties with Canada, Google and Apple can be defiant with the current international human rights council head!


I don't think the neutrality argument works here. Because by having this app Google and Apple are clearly siding with the Saudi government.

The neutral thing to do was not to allow this app, but to also not allow an app that for example, helps women get out of Saudi Arabia.

This app helps clearly helps the Saudi government, and the men that choose to oppress their women (not all of them do), control the Saudi women. It makes this task easier and so helping it (by giving it a place and spreading it in your app store) isn't neutral.


I think the stockholders would understand that SA is absolutely wrong and both should yank the app.

This app goes against human decencies and rights and that overrides the legality.


I agree. It's kind of pointless to demand from FB, Apple, Google, Amazon and other tech giants that they both don't interfere with freedom of speech and other freedoms and do promote various kinds of favorable social agendas at the same time. Also, KSA is backward as fuck, I just don't see how it's Google's fault that someone wants to live in the dark ages.

But ... the app is designed to prevent the freedom. The function of notifying is literally for the purpose of stopping women who don't want to live like that by people who force them to live in the "dark ages".

So, in other words, you are willing to ask Apple and Google to proactively police their apps, if they are designed to prevent freedoms on not. You'll probably need to ban any app related to Koran or Bible, because they condemn certain types of sexual preferences. Anything Catholic, Mormon, Scientology, got to go. So, when do you stop? How about apps used by Pentagon (Pentagon kills people)? Or banking apps that charge exhorbitant fees and 'prey on the poor'. It's a really fine line.

Again, you can with both want and not want for the tech giants to police behavior of others.


There is no thin line between app with catholic content or Koran and app that notifies male guardian of a women who is trying to cross the border. Nor between bank app that pays on poor. This app is not preying on vulnerable women trying to convince them to go back. There is also difference between policing apps that are designed "designed to prevent freedoms or not" and between policing apps that do in fact prevent basic freedoms.

This app is sending message to another person so that he can stop physically stop her and punish her. You can choose to ignore bank app and bible. You cant choose to ignore saudi police coming for you, because male guardian was notified.

But for that matter, sexual content is already heavily policed. It is not like the app stores ever claimed to be anything goes zones.


OK, let's take this argument even further. Suppose you are right. But the Saudis don't just discriminate against women. They also do against Jews, Shia and Christians. They also arranged genocide in Yemen. They've also sponsored atrocities in Syria. The list is long, really long. Clearly, Google is involved in KSA not only via the Google Play marketplace. It's quite likely that the government of KSA uses other Google products in its work. Microsoft as well. And I won't even go into the military industrial complex. Why stop with this app? There's rampant discrimination in KSA in the oil industry, for example. Are US companies involved in this industry in KSA complicit? Should they be prevented from working in KSA? Again, I just don't see how you can draw a line. You either have to take hands off approach or you need to totally embargo KSA, none of which seems satisfactory.

Typically, personal spyware apps are removed from both apple store and play store. That includes apps for abusive or jealous western partners that were meant to limit freedom of their partners.

You will be surprised I guess, but I would take issue with app that facilitates genocide in Yemen. As people did. People do take issue with IBM facilitating Nazi project during wwii. I would take issue with app that notifies Islamic State or whatever militia in Syria when high target leaves.

Putting pressure on stores to take away apps that do any of the above is fine by me. Because again, there is big difference between taking Saudi money and doing business with them on one hand and distributing spyware designed to limit freedom of victim and facilitate violence against her.


I disagree with you. First, spyware is installed without anyone's knowledge and this is not the case. Second, I can agree with you that any decent human being would be outraged. The reason of this outrage isn't this specific app, but rather how women are mistreated there.

So my question is this. We can all take moral high ground and demand that Google takes this this app down. But if you look at the situation broader, one can argue that the US government is a much bigger enabler than Google in this instance. Is there really a big difference how women are treated in Iran than they are in KSA, for instance? Iran is probably better off, though not by much.

Think about all that oil money that flows from US to KSA for decades. What is the real cause here? Is it just Google's failure to police their marketplace? Or have the Saudies always been this way.

Google is a very easy target here. Blame it on Google, pressure them to take the app down, problem solved. Or is it?


No, spyware does not have to be installed without anyone knowledge. Spyware is software that enables a user to obtain covert information about another's activities. The app that sends one partner wherabouts to another one without the first wanting it so is equal outrageous when used by jealous western girlfriend.

Ad second paragraph: how does that changes anything? Same app from Iran is same problem. Similar app watching Chinese dissidents is same issue. All would be against Google terms of services too.

You are also changing topics and goalposts. The "how to magically improve situation of women in every single oppressive country in the world" was not the topic of this thread. It was whether preventing this app constitute "asking Apple and Google to proactively police their apps, if they are designed to prevent freedoms on not" with implications for bank apps, bible and koran.

Of course pressure on Google wont solve problem. No single action will ever solve the problem. It might make the Google to contribute to the problem less. There is difference between passively not doing anything and actively contributing to the problem. That is fine.

Then again, keeping the app will not solve the freedom issue either.


I support the Google play model- if you want to have your app on the Google Play store it has to conform to certain standards, but the operating system allows you to install arbitrary APKs

I generally like to assume that other people have the same rights that I do.

You don’t need a bright and fast rule that covers every imaginable case. You can just decide the easy cases, like this, and you lose absolutely nothing in the process.

A lot of posts seem to imply that there is some sort of moral or neutrality or higher ground to be assumed by an App Store.

That is not so.

App stores are, at best, opinionated, some more than others.


This appears to be an ethical issue, not a moral one.

Honestly, I think this is what the Prime Directive really gets at. The mistake was "interfering" (hosting) in the first place.

You mean, ios App store and Google play are neutral?

it's the golden rule: would you want this app used against you? if not, then it should be taken down.

Instead of Hooli someone is going to launch Halali ... Cloud hosting according to the laws or the Koran.

It exists, sort of. There's a "halal search engine"[1]. Iran has something like the Great Firewall of China.[2] Saudi Arabia has official censorship, and they're open about it; there's a web form for requesting that something be censored, and blocked sites divert to a page saying it's blocked.[3] It seems that Iran's system is fairly tight, but the Saudi system isn't really that strict.

On the other side, there are multiple "kosher ISPs" with cloud-based filtering. There are even "glatt kosher" ISPs.[4] "The Secured program will block pornography and violence; Secured Plus will also block women wearing intimate apparel; Secured Squared and Protected will filter out any immodest clothing; and Sealed will enable access only to sites with religious and modest content." In Israel, there are "kosher phones", which are either voice only or can't access the web at all. They just run rabbi-approved apps.[5]

[1] https://www.rferl.org/a/internet-searching-islam-halalgoogli...

[2] https://www.dailydot.com/news/hewlett-packard-iran-censorshi...

[3] https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/2017/saudi-arabi...

[4] https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3446129,00.html

[5] https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/.premium-israel-unveils-koshe...


Anecdotally, VPNs are incredibly popular in Iran and the government hasn't had a great deal of success in blocking their usage. Unlike the Chinese GFW, the government entities in Iran that want to run a nationwide firewall are not able to attract the 'best and brightest' network engineers. The sort of Iranians who might be qualified to implement such are not living in Iran, they're living in Los Angeles and working for six-figure salaries in US dollars.

An important note regarding the "kosher" ISPs - they're opt-in. Anybody who has an account with a "kosher" ISP is free to cancel and get an account with an unrestricted ISP. That makes them qualitatively different from Chinese etc. ISPs where people have no choice but to submit to censorship.

I don't think a real argument can be made that morality is subjective. If morality were subjective then the choice would be clear, no, Google and everybody else should respect other peoples' morals.

But things like slavery and the Holocaust make that determination, well, difficult. To say that morality is ultimately relative is ultimately to condone societies choosing to do really repugnant things to people.

There is a line to draw. That much is certain. The only question is where. I don't think we should be charging into the Sentinel Islands like a bunch of idiots and destroying their culture. But Apple choosing not to technologically enable the Saudis to further disenfranchise their women seems to be worthy.

In 1807, Britain passed the Slave Trade Act, outlawing slavery throughout the Empire. Passing the law wasn't enough to actually stop the slave trade. So the British Empire established the West Africa Squadron at considerable expense, to curb the illegal trade.

At first the squadron was hampered by the need to remain on good diplomatic terms with other European countries, but soon they signed treaties allowing Britain free reign to interdict and search ships they suspected of carrying slaves. At it's height, one sixth of the resources of the Royal Navy was devoted to curbing slavery.

What should be the arbiter of morality? I don't really know. But the public willingness to devote considerable social resources to stamping out an awful practice is a gift we shouldn't turn away.

Another example is the Latin American drug trade. The liberal-minded thing to do is to legalize drugs so that the cartels can't profit from them. But history teaches that cartels are in the business of doing nasty things, not in any one nasty business. So if they can't make mountains of cash funneling drugs across borders, they'll make hills of cash funneling humans.

It takes cross-border cooperation to smash these quasi-states, as they largely managed to do in Colombia.

Saudi Arabia is not interested in rapid social change, many many countries are doing the best they can to resist the destabilizing effects of Western technology on their traditional cultures. China has their Great Firewall. North Korea is closed off completely.

Maybe they have a point. But the West can't put the genie back in the bottle, we can't go back to a world before the Internet. And the elites in these traditional societies are perfectly fine profiting off of the tech when it's convenient for them.

So I don't really have much of a problem with Apple deciding to stick their neck out, or with us placing a moral onus on them, to stop facilitating the exploitation of humans.


We have to have a line somewhere. Google and Apple aren't IBM helping the Nazi's.

IBM had the Nazis as a client, while the modern companies have the Saudis as investors. The power structure is inverted.

Neutrality is a moral viewpoint in itself. It's the viewpoint that nobody is actually wrong, that simply by being a country you have a right to have your moral views respected. In the specific case of app stores, it's the viewpoint that everyone deserves to have the things they're doing made more efficient, and that helping anyone speed up their work is virtuous.

(Neutrality, by the way, is IBM's present defense of Dehomag's actions in World War II: there was a market opportunity in Germany, market opportunities are not inherently immoral, and by the time Germany's morality was beyond the pale, it was too late to say no. See https://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/1388.wss .)

And this isn't really neutrality, anyway. It's neutrality between the views of the powerful. The morality of Saudi Arabia is in scope; the morality of the Unabomber isn't. The morality of the LDS Church is in scope; the morality of Jews who object on religious grounds to the actions of the state of Israel isn't. The morality of China is in scope; the morality of non-authoritarian Communists isn't, because they lost all the Communist countries to authoritarians.


"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality."

~Desmond Tutu


In situations of injustice, choosing the side of the oppressor is not always a bad thing, It's sometimes beneficial to let oppressor get it's way. You need to look and evaluate the whole picture before making a decision because constant local optimization is not always the best global strategy. Your goal is to win the war, not the battle.

I love this quote. Neutrality has enabled some of the greatest evils in history. I think it is impossible to be neutral and also be a force for good.

This seems like a significant distortion to me. Neutrality can mean that people who provide infrastructure and services may provide them to everyone without being considered to endorse particular uses or users. That doesn't mean that either the infrastructure or service providers or the advocates of neutrality literally believe or assert that "nobody is actually wrong".

From another angle, neutrality can mean that no one, or no entity of a certain type, should have or should exercise certain powers of judgement or discrimination. This also does not mean that nobody is wrong.

This is true across all sorts of situation in which many different entities refrain or are urged to refrain from making particular kinds of judgements or interventions, and there are lots of potentially powerful reasons for such restraint—quite a lot of them having to do with Schelling points that different people can (eagerly or grudgingly) agree on to stop conflicts or disagreements from escalating or infecting everything.


The internet I grew up with was a champion of free speech and exchange of ideas. No matter what they were. It’s very sad to see that it’s being taken over calls for censorship on so many different levels. I do find the nurtrality aspect to be very hypocritical though. The same communities that demand ISP infrastructure be kept neutral at all costs will often support content censorship in numerous other ways.



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