Google won't remove a Saudi app that lets men track women

Key Points
  • Absher, an app designed by the Saudi government, allows men to track women and deny them permission to travel.
  • After investigating the app, Google told a Congresswoman that Absher does not violate its terms and conditions.
  • The app is currently available on both Apple and Google’s app stores despite a call from U.S. politicians for both companies to remove it.
The logo of Google Play is seen on a screen.
Alexander Pohl | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Google's investigation into a Saudi app that lets men track women and prevent them from travelling found that it complies with the company's terms and conditions, a U.S. Representative's office told CNBC Wednesday.

Absher, powered by the Saudi government's National Information Center, can be used by men to monitor women's whereabouts and stop them from travelling. Both Apple and Google's app stores offer the app, which can also be used to access government services.

Under the kingdom's guardianship system, women are assigned a male relative whose approval is needed to apply for a passport, get married, or travel abroad. The Absher app asks male users to list any dependent women, and then allows them to ban travel.

Last month, 14 U.S. lawmakers wrote to the CEOs of Apple and Google calling for the removal of Absher from their app stores.

"The ingenuity of American technology companies should not be perverted to violate the human rights of Saudi women. Twenty first century innovations should not perpetuate sixteenth century tyranny," the Representatives said in the letter. "Keeping this application in your stores allows your companies and your American employees to be accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers."

The office of Congresswoman Jackie Speier confirmed to CNBC that a Google investigation found the app did not violate its terms and conditions – which means the app can remain on the Google Play store.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told U.S. radio station NPR last month that Apple would "take a look at" Absher.

The app has also faced condemnation from human rights advocacy groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Spokespersons for Google, Apple and Absher were not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.