Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Tracking Saudi Women, Absher App

Saudi Arabians and their culture are many years behind other nations when it comes to the way their government runs their country. They are an underdeveloped nation that has still yet to enforce the concept of equal rights between men and women. Women in Saudi Arabia are considered second class citizens to men, and have only a limited amount of rights granted to them (sounds a lot like life in the U.S prior to 1920). Saudi Arabia is essentially 100 years behind the U.S. One of the major issues concerning women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is their right to travel. It is customary in Saudi Arabian culture for women to be granted permission by their male guardian if they wish to travel, and more times than not they are denied.  

Recently, a new app has been published by the Saudi Arabian government that allows for users to utilize a numerous amount of E-services with an online account. The E-services allow the male users to keep track of workers, apply for permits, apply for visas, renew passports, and also allows them to grant women permission to travel all with the click of a button. While the concept of women having to ask for permission to travel may seem like a horrible thing, the app is actually doing Saudi women’s rights some good. Before the app, when a woman wanted to travel, her male guardian would have to go to government offices, stand in long lines, and fill out what seemed like endless paperwork because of the country’s strict guardianship laws. With the app, men can no longer use these as excuses to not fill out the paperwork and with this new digitized system, the process is now much more efficient and quicker. All the men have do to now is quickly insert the information into the designated areas and the women are on their way.
Although the app is doing these Saudi Arabian women some good, the app has many critics and is leaving many people very upset with Apple and Google who host the app on their app stores. So far, there has been numerous amounts of activists along with fourteen different members of U.S congress who have tried to petition to get the app removed from all app stores. But when Google was confronted about the issue they insisted that they have reviewed the app and concluded that it does not violate any agreements, and can therefore remain on the Google Play store. People have become very uncomfortable in learning the app not only lets men track their wives and daughters, but also allows for restrictions as to where they are allowed to travel to. By using the app, men can directly set where the women can travel to and if the woman attempts to travel to an unauthorized area she will be stopped as her passport and ID may be flagged. The app offers roughly about one hundred and sixty different service and critics have decided to single out one service while claiming it is enabling the Saudi government to maintain traditional control over the women of their country. There are many people who at risk in this situation, these are the stake holders. Unfortunately, the stakeholders consist of more than just Google and Apple who being ridiculed by activists and congress members who are calling them "accomplices to the oppression of women". Other stakeholders include the Saudi government, who may lose their interaction with the Saudi people through this app if it were to be removed, and also the Saudi men and women who may lose their easiest and most efficient way of allowing the women to travel.
From an individualist perspective, Google and Apple are doing their jobs to increase profit by keeping the app on their stores even with all the criticism they are getting. Milton Friedman believed that "management was responsible for maximizing business profits and any action taken without considering profit is stealing from the owners of the company." (Salazar 17) When Google or Apple decide to add an app to their app store, even if the app is free, they are going to make a profit. That profit may come from advertisements in the app or even things such as in app purchases or fees. An individualist would recognize that if the company has an opportunity to make money they should take it as long as it is legal. According to Friedman, if the companies were to take the app down they would be stealing from their owners who could be making a profit, and since the app follows all agreements with the companies then they have no reason to take it down. Therefor, an individualist would find this case as ethical because the companies are making decisions that are going to bring them profit and that are within the confines of the law.
“Utilitarianism tells us that we can determine the ethical significance of any action by looking to the consequences of that act”(DesJardins 29). In this case, the consequences that came from the decision by Apple and Google to leave the app on their stores was that many people became upset and not all people affected were happy in the end. Utilitarian would deem this case as unethical because the decision in the end didn’t maximize happiness for all people involved, instead many people were left unhappy with the decision as they felt the companies were not supporting women’s rights and were supporting that the Saudi Arabian men should have control over the women. Other consequences that came from the decisions by Apple and Google were that they have lost some support by people who feel that their decisions were wrong this will cause them to lose money they may have had if they hadn’t accepted the app to begin with.
Kantian theorist believe in making decisions with respect and honor towards individuals and their choices. They also believe in rational decision making that doesn’t include lying, cheating, or manipulating. Along with this, they believe in the formula of humanity which is simply treating people as an end and never as a means. “Kantianism does not make decisions based on consequences.” (Salazar 21) In this controversy, a kantian theorist would view Google and Apple’s decision as ethical because they acted on respect towards Saudi arabians and their culture. In Saudi Arabian culture, women have to be granted permission to travel by their male guardian and a person believing in Kant’s theory would realize that this app only helps that process run smoother  and with less interference. A person following Kant’s theory wouldn’t try to interfere with the way the Saudi men and women choose to live their lives and the culture they follow.
Virtue theorist believe in acting with good character and they rely heavily on decisions people make to reflect their character. As it is the same with businesses and organizations.  What virtue theorist care about most is the organization’s character and how their decisions show who they are as an organization. According to the case manual, virtue theorist believe people “Act so as to embody a variety of virtuous or good character traits and so as to avoid vicious or bad character traits” (Salazar 22). Due to this, a virtue theorist would see this case as unethical based on the decision that google and apple had made. A virtue theorist would see that because Google and Apple have allowed for the app to stay on their stores, the organizations must approve and support women’s suffrage. If Google and Apple know this app is allowing Saudi men to more closely monitor women in their society then they must be ok with it and support it.
In this controversy I feel as though both Apple and Google acted ethically. By allowing for the app to continue to stay on their stores they are respecting the decisions of the Saudi people to follow their traditional culture, as this app actually helps many of them. The app necessarily isn’t a bad thing, even though it allows for men to more easily track women in Saudi Arabia. The app has many positive aspects that help to enhance the lives of these Saudi people who are essentially living in a world that is one hundred years behind the United States. The app expedites the process of men arranging for their wives and daughters to travel while also gives them access to many essential online documents as well as many helpful services. The app doesn’t break any of the agreements with either Apple or Google and it not only doesn’t break any Saudi laws, but helps to enforce and better laws they already have in place, such as their guardianship laws. It would be unethical for Apple or Google to take away the app from the Saudi people when it does nothing but improve the situation and society they currently live in.
Google and Apple have taken a lot of criticism for allowing the app to stay on their stores. Many people do not believe they are making the correct decision by doing so and are very unhappy with the two companies. Along with activists and protesters, the companies have also gained the attention of fourteen different congress members who are also very against their decision. These members of congress have even come out with statements against the decision and are doing what they can to get the app removed from the stores. Congress members Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Katherine Clark, and Jackie Speier have gone as far as saying “Google and Apple are accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women for hosting the app.”
In order to fix what they have done and maintain their consumer base, Apple and Google are going to have to reach an agreement with the Saudi ministry of interior as to certain things on the app need to be changed in order for the companies to keep the app open to the public. If Google and Apple continue to leave the app up, more and more people are going to become upset with them and it could start to hurt their profits. I think Google and Apple should start with an apology to the public for keeping the app up on their stores when they knew what it was mainly being used for. Following an apology, the companies should set up some kind of meeting to talk to the part of the Saudi government that is responsible for the app and they should try to find a compromise where the traveling and tracking part of the app is taken out in order for the companies to continue distributing the app. This would be best for the companies because they would no longer have people protesting against them and would no longer be giving members of congress any reason to come after the companies and trying to exploit them.

·      DesJardins, Joseph. An Introduction to Business Ethics. New York City: The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc, 2014. Salazar, Heather. The Business Ethics Case Manual. n.d.

By; N. Cafaro 

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