Tech companies talk a big game when it comes to their mission of improving the world.
Apple touts 100 percent renewable energy powering its global operations.
Alphabet, the holding company for Google, is trying to create free wireless internet connections for developing countries to help bring them into the 21st century.
I find it rather strange that these tech giants spout so much self-righteousness about their innovative products when they are losing so much moral high ground when they let consumers use those devices in a negative way.
Both Apple and Google have come under fire recently over their lack of response to an app made available in Saudi Arabian app stores by its government.
The app, Absher, allows women’s male guardians to keep strict ties on their whereabouts and ability to travel.
The app seems to hide its questionable existence behind its general purpose, which is to access government services like paying fines, applying for a license or job or reporting crime.
The controversial section of the app pertains to a section dedicated to the compulsory male guardians for all women in Saudi Arabia. Every Saudi woman is governed by a male guardian who provides permission for travel, marriage and sometimes work or access to healthcare.
The government created the aforementioned section of the app so male guardians could restrict permission to travel and the female dependents ability to apply for a driver’s license.
Business Insider published a report outlining how the app was being used within the country and the story instantly went viral with huge amounts of backlash from human rights groups like Amnesty International and among U.S. government officials.
In a letter sent to both CEOs of Google and Apple, U.S. Senate Finance Committee member Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), asked the companies to stop their app stores and products from being used for abhorrent surveillance and control of women.
"By permitting the app in your respective stores, your companies are making it easier for Saudi men to control their family members from the convenience of their smartphones and restrict their movements. This flies in the face of the type of society you both claim to support and defend," Wyden said in the letter.
After this point the assumption would be that Apple and Google would review the apps and find they were a human rights violation and have the apps removed. This wasn’t the case.
Google told Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California, who also wrote a letter to the companies with other members of congress, that the app doesn’t violate their terms of service in Saudi Arabia and that the app would remain on the Google Play store.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview with National Public Radio that they were looking into the app but haven’t provided further comment on any actions being taken.
"Not only do they have the capability to take action, they have done so previously with the removal of the Living Hope Ministries app, which encouraged users to 'convert' LGBTQ individuals, based on its ability to cause harm," Speier told Business Insider.
This decision to allow the app to remain in the stores is a slap in the face to human rights activists globally.
These companies have taken a responsibility to enrich and improve the world we live in.
Apple, beyond bringing its tech products to the masses, has committed to large scale health research through their Health app.
Google is trying revolutionize health in its own way by creating augmented reality training and guidelines for doctors during actual surgeries.
These companies spend their days trying to find new ways to enable the next generation of people to do more amazing things.
The problem is, if people don’t have access to basic human and privacy freedoms, we aren’t improving or enriching anything.