Absher App: Saudi App Tracks Women, Apple and Google Are Asked to Help (2019)
The Absher app was created and launched in 2015 by the Saudi government. Absher translates to "Yes, Sir" in Arabic. This app is described to be "the official individuals eServices Mobile Application that provides the services of Absher portal in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" (Time). The purpose for this app is to be able to complete daily tasks such as, applying for visas, registering vehicles, making appointments and being able to check your mail. With the release of the app, its seen as very effective and productive way of getting things done at the tips of your fingers for Saudi Arabians.
The controversy with this app is that not only can people have this app be able to get all these tasks done, but male users are allowed to log information about their dependents (wives, sisters, daughters). Males are able to grant or deny permission for them to travel by pressing a button in the app. They can register their dependents names and passport numbers and be able to choose how many trips they are allowed to take and for how long.
|A look at what the Absher App looks like.|
The news of this app is starting to become viral in the sense that human rights defenders, Senator Ron Wyden and at least fourteen members of congress have requested that the companies Apple and Google remove this app from their stores. Both companies have denied that they haven't heard anything about the app or its notorious ability but that it will be checked into. In a letter written by Senator Wyden, he states, "It is hardly news that the Saudi monarchy seeks to restrict and repress Saudi women, but American companies should not enable to facilitate the Saudi government's patriarchy" he went on to say that "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" (CNN). Both companies Apple and Google have yet to respond to the letter sent by the congress members who gave a deadline of February 28th.
|Senator Ron Wyden, public statement.|
In this case, stakeholders are the men that are using the Absher app, the women that are being controlled by the app that was designed by the Arabian government, the Arabian government itself and American companies Apple and Google. With this app being out in the world for people to use in environments like the Saudi Arabia government, this brings more control and power to the men of this country and with technology they can continue to dictate what and where the women in their lives can go. Along with this, Arabic women are having even less ability to find ways to get away from dangerous situations which will have an effect on their lives and their happiness.
From an individualistic stand point, there is seen to be no problem. In this case, Apple and Google should keep the Absher app up on their stores. In the companies eyes, they have no real obligation to take down the app from their stores because they most likely have a contract with the creators of the app to have it in their stores. This being said, it does not mean that the two major companies have something against women's freedom and are for the behavior that the Saudi Arabian government prides themselves on for how they treat women of their country. In their minds, they are strictly sticking to the contract made between the creators of the app and their companies. Not only are Apple and Google seen as individualists in this case but so are the Saudi Arabian government and the men that use the app to control the women in their families. In their eyes, this has been the way of life since the government had been created, the men would be in control of the women and the women would have have little say in decisions and would have restrictions throughout their lifetime. With technology nowadays, this is just enhancing and bettering the safety and control that the Saudi Arabian men and government think they can have on the women of their country.
From a utilitarianism stand point, in order to maximize every stakeholder in this cases happiness, the most ethical thing to do would to remove any negative settings on the Absher app, like the ability to track women, but also anything else that may raise some red flags. If that were to be done, then the app would be used for what its real purpose is, which is to renew licenses, pay off bills, make appointments etc. With this change, the Saudi government can be happy that they are continuing to follow the traditional behaviors of their beliefs on the standing of women in their country without violating their right to privacy. Despite the life style in Saudi Arabia for women, this can maximize their happiness because it will then make them feel safer and more confident in their ability to escape the country if they are in a dangerous situation. When it comes to Apple and Google, being able to keep the app up without any conflicts from anyone gives the Saudi Arabian government the ability to keep the app up with reasonable attributes to the app. This maximizes the happiness of the two companies because if the app where to be deleted, then Apple and Google would then lose any profit that may continue with the apps existence and continuation of being downloaded. With this the companies can continue profiting from the app without losing any revenue.
Kantians believe in the formula of humanity which is to treat everyone as an end not as a means to an end. This means to not take advantage of anyone or group of people in order to achieve something else. In this case, a Kantian would view this as being unethical because the stakeholders, Apple and Google, as well as the Saudi Arabian government are not following the ethical standards that Kantianism holds in business ethics. Both stakeholders are taking advantage of the Saudi women in order to achieve more power and control for the Saudi Arabian government, as well as profit for the two corporations.
To make sure to maximize all of the rules of Kantianism, a Kantian's opinion would be to remove the tracking setting of the app.This would allow the app to still exist because it would still have all of the other daily functions that was created for Saudi Arabian citizens. By doing this, it is eliminating the fact that the government is manipulating and putting the Saudi women in harm by having this tracking setting on the app.
There are many characteristics that can fall under the description of a virtue but from a business ethics stand point, the four main virtue characteristics are; courage, honesty, self-control and fairness. Applying it to this case, it would have to be that no stakeholders have the courage to stand up for what is right, excluding the few Saudi women who were fortunate to find a way to flee the country safely. People that showed honesty with this case were the government officials, activists and Saudi women that spoke about their experience of escaping their country, like Rahaf Mohammed, the young teenager who now lives in Canada.
Not much self-control is being shown within this case but if there was a party in the situation that showed it the most would have to be the women that escaped Saudi Arabia and Apple and Google for being careful of their actions and how they responded to all of the negative accusations and assumptions being made of the companies. And lastly, the women that were able to escape their country, sought out for fairness and justice for themselves by fleeing the country and finding somewhere safer and more accepting in hopes that they can help other women like them.
|Rahaf Mohammed, Saudi Arabian Teenager|
Justified Ethics Evaluation
I support the decision of Apple and Google made regarding them choosing to not remove the app from their stores, as well as being careful of what they sent out as public statements in the reasoning behind not taking it down. By not taking it down, does it make the two companies look bad and that they are supporting the Saudi Arabian government? Yes. it absolutely does to any typical consumer of their products but you have to look at it from the business stand point. You have to be able to put them in their shoes. Do both businesses have the influence and power to make a difference if they chose to do so? I believe that they do and I believe that they should whether the gesture is small or big considering the limitations that they have since they are trying to challenge the traditional customs of a country that is not theirs. I believe that Apple and Google are looking at the fact that they have a contract with the creators of this app and even if it does not technically break any rules and conditions that are required to be in their app stores, they can't legally do anything. The only way I can see them getting out of the contract is if the government snuck it in there without the companies know and thus being able to then terminate the contracts. Another solution would be to just make a bold statement by discontinuing your business with the Saudi app all together and show that as Apple and Google, you are not for promoting the rights of women being restricted and repressed.
In order to resolve the issue that is going on is for the two corporations, Apple and Google, to approach the issue to the Saudi Arabian government. They need to try and have the government understand that although as American companies they respect their countries beliefs and there is nothing they can do to change that but there is a lot of conflict going on back in the United States because of their association with the Saudi Arabian app and its notorious features. A suggestion that can be made from Apple and Google would be to remove the tracking app setting from the app so that all parties can continue business together. After this is done, Apple and Google would send out a public apology for not removing the app from the stores as soon as they heard the tracking allegations that were associated with the Absher app.
Apple and Google would need to create a mission statement referring to the events that happened with the Saudi Arabian app showing the public that they care about the women's rights. The statement should outline how they strive to be better as two companies who have such a big influence on consumers, as well as making sure they never allow an app to have features on it that can discriminate any type of person. They are going to do better and raise their values as major corporations. This new mission statement differs from the two companies statements because this one talks more about how they want to be valued and how they are going to show that they care more about their consumers then about the gains and profits of their corporations. It also talks about raising the values that they have for their companies in order to be better in the future. This mission statement is an improvement because it shows that the companies are going to start caring more about their consumers and not just solely about how well their businesses are doing. Apple and Google can redefine their values and improve them to be things such as, customer safety, integrity, and dependability.
To prevent situations like this from occurring in the future, the two companies can make sure that if there is an app that is created, to have it be looked at thoroughly to ensure that it doesn't violate any persons rights regardless if the app follows the rules and conditions that are set. Apple and Google will also have to change their policies so that if a problem like this arises, they can be more prepared to handle it and have more ethical morals when it comes to their decision making due to the changes to their companies policies. Along with new policies, the companies need to rethink how they hire, fire and promote employees. These companies need to stand by their mission statements and the promises they have made to the people. With promoting people, they need to look at their employees and see who shows the best qualities that will fit the new standards of the corporations in order to succeed in the new direction that they are heading. When it comes to firing, they need to evaluate and eliminate any person who no longer fits under the new standards that have been made. Hiring people, Apple and Google need to look at their new policies and see what candidates fit who they're trying to become and how they are different from the employees they already have.
By removing the tracking aspect from the app, this can help promote the app in a more positive way by showing that it no longer holds the ability to track women or anybody for that matter. This will help promote business for Apple and Google because if it's successful, then it shows that the two corporations stepped up and did what they could to help Saudi women and a big part of that was removing the tracking aspect from the app itself. Even if it is unsuccessful, it shows the consumers that they were willing to try and fight to help these women which could also help them gain business. This correlates with the mission statement and core values because it shows that they are fighting to help prevent certain restraints on Saudi Arabian women and it's showing that they care more about people than about their businesses. It ties in with their core values because it demonstrates that they are looking after the safety of their customers, being the Saudi women, and any future people that could be affected by this, along with showing integrity for standing up and dependability by using their power and influence as such major companies to help these women.
- Taryn Kubik
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