The app provides various official services, among them a digitized version of the "yellow sheet" a legal guardian has to fill out for a woman to be able to leave the country. (https://www.rt.com/news/women-tracking-saudi-arabia-359/ from 2012 describes this particular system, the app apparently integrates it with more digital services).
The alternative isn't freedom of movement, it's having to get a signature on paper and potentially personal appearance of the legal guardian, which is harder to get (this includes: forge) than a button click on a website. As a remedy for that reduced trust in the system, it sends an SMS - to the very same device.
There are activists in Saudi Arabia (see for example https://twitter.com/monaeltahawy/status/1095360734798721025) who see value in that type of app because the degree of automation it brings makes it easier to leave the country without supervision (e.g. by stealing the legal guardian's phone).
In that case, Google and Apple should completely withdraw from Saudi Arabia: no iPhones, no appstore, no AdSense, ...
Any of these lead to tax revenue which facilitates running that oppressive government.
That's not what people are demanding though: they want some inconsequential app removed to demonstrate that they can coerce big tech companies to do their bidding.
The icing on the cake is that they essentially work with strategies straight from the "fake news" handbook, by making it sound as if the app provides a new means of control ("government app which lets men track women and control their travel", straight from the title of the linked article).
Even more annoying to me is that one of these campaigners is D-CA representative Jackie Speier who promotes herself on Twitter (https://twitter.com/repspeier) as "Fearless Fighter for women’s equality, LGBTQ rights & the disenfranchised."
Given that women who demand equality, LGBTQ folks and the disenfranchised (e.g. Filipino immigrants) still have to fear for their lives in Saudi Arabia, where's the house bill to setup a full blown embargo until human rights are universally respected? _That_ would be fearless.
Demanding removal of that app? That's merely flexing their muscles in a US domestic political battle. Human rights don't deserve to be abused like that.
> That's not what people are demanding though: they want some inconsequential app removed to demonstrate that they can coerce big tech companies to do their bidding.
Actually, I kind of am demanding that they not do business with oppressive regimes. You make it sounds like some huge sacrifice. It is not. And it would give them a shred of moral credibility.
Or, on the other hand, if Google must do business with Saudi Arabia, I expect them to shut up and never again speak of virtue again. I expect them to let neo-nazi apps trend on the front page of their app store. Because they have no moral authority any more.
Are you serious? Publishing misinformation about drugs is more serious than the handmaiden app?
I am so disgusted with the den of cowards and hypocrites at Google.
Supercilious Google developers would condescend to us with platitudes of "Black lives matter" while literally hosting an enslavement app. It really would happen that way.
Google would censor someone who makes fun of feminism with extreme prejudice, but will not lift a finger for this actual handmaiden app.
They removed the Gab app at the drop of a hat because they claim to be against white supremacy, but they tacitly endorse the far more dangerous Chinese ethnostate to round up minorities into actual camps. The Chinese government forces Uyghurs in some regions to install apks on their android phones, and Google will NOT interfere, even though it would be easy to blacklist them. Maybe it would be ineffective, but it would be doing something. I don't want to hear that cooperating with oppression is somehow for the greater good. This is not who we are.
There are actual people who are suffering as a direct result of Google's refusal to take a stand about who uses their platform. They are clearly willing to remove apps that displease them for arbitrary reasons, so they have no excuse not to act.
Indeed, the app is bad. That it exists or needs to exist is a bad thing. But given the Saudi government and Saudi law, the opinion of many women in Saudi Arabia is that scrapping the app would hurt their agency, not help it. They need male approval to travel either way, and by making it easier to get, the app, in practice, gives women more agency by lowering the bureaucratic barriers to travel.
The best way I can put it is that the app here doesn't really particularly help the oppressors. Like maybe, in a contrived way, you can argue that by making the oppression lighter weight you're less likely to have a full on revolution or something. But then, you've still lessened the oppression. That's not a bad thing.
But if removing the app from the store makes the experience of women in Saudi Arabia worse, which is exactly what many of those women are saying, then removing it doesn't do anything. You're just asking to have the Saudi society regress even further to a position where in practice women had even less agency.
Is that better?
: https://twitter.com/monaeltahawy/status/1095360734798721025 an
The tweet seems to reference a single anecdote received in a text message, and the article mentions "... many Absher users within Saudi Arabia have come to its defense", without mentioning any particular supportive groups (or providing numbers).
So no. You're probably stuck trusting time on this one.
You might be 100% right, I certainly don't know the perspectives of Saudi women, but I will take your word for it.
But if Google resisting evil means that the Saudi government punishes Saudi women, then that is the fault of the Saudi government.
Should Google accede to every despotic government that threatens its people? I wrote in a previous comment about how Google does nothing to prevent China from using its technology to put innocent people in camps. Perhaps China will be even more brutal if Google tries to thwart them. But I still think Google has an obligation not to cooperate.
I sympathize with what you are saying. And if I were a woman in Saudi Arabia, I would probably not want the app banned too.
That's what this app does.
I'm also confused by the china comparison. I'm not aware of any google tech China is using to oppress, but even if that is true, your China example is technology causing more oppression. This is the opposite. The technology reduces the oppression.
You're presenting a very weird moral arfument. If you thought that not supporting this app would accelerate the fall of the Saudi regime, I'd say you're naive, but ok. But you're not saying that, you're saying that American companies shouldn't work with groups you don't like, even when the result is objectively good, because, for lack of a better term, virtue signalling. Why?
Google could very easily prevent China from using Android phones to oppress people. China is forcing people to install well known .apk files on their phones. Google has a very well developed infrastructure for blacklisting malware from their devices. But they refuse to life a finger.
> You're presenting a very weird moral arfument. If you thought that not supporting this app would accelerate the fall of the Saudi regime, I'd say you're naive, but ok. But you're not saying that, you're saying that American companies shouldn't work with groups you don't like, even when the result is objectively good, because, for lack of a better term, virtue signalling. Why?
In the short term it may be objectively good, sure. But no, I still don't like them working with groups "I don't like". I don't like American corporations legitimizing oppressive regimes. And what you are essentially saying is that if an oppressive regime threatens to hold a population hostage, then we must work with them.
As far as I know, Google has very little control over devices in China. They're almost all developed by other manufacturers (Huawei for example), and don't use Google Apps or Vanilla android, but instead use Huawei or OnePlus or Oppo's flavor of android, and use one of these app stores.
So Google could add code to blacklist these apks to android source, and then Chinese manufacturers could remove it. Or they could have GMSCore do it, and since that's blocked in china, it wouldn't do anything.
So, not to get too sidetracked here, but I'd be curious to know what actions Google could take to do this, short of relicensing Android (which also wouldn't actually fix the underlying issue here, it would just cut Google's connection).
>And what you are essentially saying is that if an oppressive regime threatens to hold a population hostage, then we must work with them.
No, I'm saying we should work to improve the lives of people under oppressive governments, even if that requires working with the oppressive governments. Should the US Government not provide humanitarian aid to North Korea? Is letting people starve worth being able to say that NK isn't "legitimate"?
But do you see any risk that this could set in motion different, more controlling behaviors for the men who authorize women's movement?
It's presumably a click or two in an app - maybe that will lead to better outcomes for women, or perhaps not? Would they have more or less empathy for the situations involved, for example?
I don't claim by any means to be an expert here, far from it, but I think there's a deeper discussion here and you may be brushing it aside; it feels like there's evidence missing that the app will definitely lead to better outcomes.
Now the man doesn't need to go to a government office to let his wife travel, he just taps some stuff in an app. Like I mentioned, there's an argument to be made (that I personally disagree with) that this increased friction will somehow accelerate change in saudi society or something. But the argument there is that by inconveniencing oppressors you'll somehow make them more empathetic to the oppressed. History says that doesn't usually happen. You just annoy the men and then don't help the women. Change comes slowly and incrementally, not all at once in an avalanche.
Do you have any further reading on this?
So let's forget about the slavery and focus on the 'modernization' of this 'activity' and maybe even celebrate the off chance some slaves scramble to freedom. For 'technical folks' this makes sense.
It becomes a question of whether you support the principles behind the functionality provided, rather than whether you support the ability for a few people to escape thanks to bugs/exploits in the software.
I prefer to listen to voices of people directly affected rather than organizations operating on the other side of the world.
As soon as women living in Saudi Arabia are saying that having this app is harmful, I'm all for having it gone. Right now what I hear is that the system is harmful (I think we're in violent agreement about that) and that the app helps in some cases while not making anything worse in all other situations.
When it comes to "supporting the principles":
I'd rather have them keep apps in the stores that aren't harmful (as said: I believe that this app doesn't make anything worse, in some cases it may even make things better) and stay out of morality based decisions, because at some point their morality will not agree with mine.
Apparently Google and Apple aren't too hot on unionization (at least there don't seem to be unions in either company). Should they remove apps by unions from their stores because they don't support the principle?
(but for the record: I'm not a fan of app stores as only, or even just primary application distribution channel. IMHO there should be no such curator who has to make this type of call)
> thanks to bugs/exploits in the software
It's not bugs in the software that enable leaving the country without physical presence and signature of a legal guardian. It's that these (hard to forge) factors were replaced by (easy to forge) phone ownership.
By removing the app they'd go a long way to fix that "bug".
People on HN would even rationalize it the same way.
"Saying it's OK with them." If they made a public statement "we are not ok with this, but the app stays anyways" is everyone satisfied now? Everyone knows google is in favour of womens right. People want them to take it down because they think google won't, so it gives them an opportunity to complain about how sexist google is. Then the next time something happens regarding women near google, they'll say wow google is so sexist remember how they made women get permissions slips to travel? When in fact google is completely powerless before the might of a nation state, and the worst they can do is make saudi arabia host the apk on their own website.
That may have been true in 2015. But no, Google us curating for political reasons. Google claims that they are concerned about things like the safety of women and LGBT groups. They have banned apps like Gab.com for purely quite flimsy political reasons. So you would think that Google would have no problem banning this app.
Thus, their approving of an app which literally facilitates patriarchal misogyny on a nation-wide scale, while banning apps that simply make misogynist jokes, is colossal hypocrisy on their part.
There are a ton of other things that are legal but that google doesn't allow though, so your point still stands.
But yes, it would have been much harder without the app, because the old system would have required her dad to appear in-person, wet-sign specific paper forms, etc.
I'm sure Google would take it down in a heartbeat.
And as you said, it wouldn't have any effect on PornHub as people would still go there through the website, but it shows that Google is okay with government-backed slavery but not with porn.
In short, the app, as awful as it is, is an improvement for Saudi women. Getting rid of it will hurt them.
That would inconvenience Saudi men, would it not?
Perception varies by cultural context, so it doesn't really matter how people with no connection to Saudi Arabia perceive things.
Removing the app would mean making travel even harder, not easier - you should look at how all of this worked before the online service was introduced.
Removing the app would mean making travel even harder
These seem like contradictory statements.
"This app is great! I've been looking for a good way to track my teenage wife and build my very own virtual prison so she can't escape my insatiable desire for sex with underage women and this is it! Google you've really outdone yourself this time! I can even set her as missing if she doesn't answer my texts so other enlightened men can hunt her for me!"
Apps are not speech, and apps have been deleted in the past, because Google has terms of service which can be violated. And yet, requests and outrage have not already become never-ending, therefore it is already demonstrably false that any attempt to delete an app must lead to never ending requests and outrage, because neither human beings nor society work that way.
"slippery slope" seen for the empty concern trolling that it is.
Remove an application that facilitates subjugation of human beings? That's going a little too far if you ask pbreit.
If we say we're not going to participate in this and then we turn our backs on them we've made their lives so much harder and given them no help. Tomorrow you'll forget you participated in an outraged comment thread and move on.
But Saudi women will still be there. And all that they'd have for it all is that their lives are harder.
Please, refrain from boarding the outrage train this time.
I would rather ask American people pressurize their government from not selling weapons to Saudis and not to protect their Royal family. That does 1000x damage to Saudi women and American values more that Google making things simple for Saudi Arabian women to move around.
Would you rather have a scenario where a woman needs to wait for the husband to drive to the airport and permit her to travel ?
The top voted comment betrays the current moral compass of the tech community, nothing is too regressive to not 'normalize' and hand wave away.
But given the community's U turn from freedom lovers to supporters of invasive profiling and eager builders of surveillance systems this yet more evidence of the community's dramatic slide into irrelevance, unless the conversation is about startups or money.
The good news is for those with some moral spine this is not going to fly. There is no way Google or Apple can continue to host this app once it is widely known. Others will fight and win this battle while you plot your next billion dollar unicorn to 'save the world'.
While Google employees openly express discontent with Google’s involvement with US DOD projects.
Gen 1 Silicon Valley was built on a foundation of US Defense funding.
How much is Saudi/Qatari/Emirati sovereign wealth fund money funding the current generation of Silicon Valley?
I’ve worked with numerous women from conservative islamic countries.
All but onee are now settled legally in countries with considerably more freedoms for females.
One is still working with the sword of Damocles dangling overhead in terms of arranged marriage.
One female GSB classmate of mine is Egyptian working in Saudi Arabia in a tenuous position without a male family sponsor/guardian.
Their country, their rules......
But our countries and companies, our rules.
Some consistent backbone by Google would be nice to see, not just in countries where the consequences of having a backbone are minimal.