Following internal investigations, Google’s PlayStore will continue to host ‘Absher’, an app which allows Saudi men to monitor women’s movement and control their travel.

Absher is an e-governance app providing 160 administrative services, such as renewing passports or applying for a woman’s permission to work and travel (which require male guardian consent).

In February, US lawmakers sent letters criticising Google and Apple for hosting Absher on their app stores, denouncing it as a perversion of “American technology” making “American employees” complicit in oppression.

Another letter said it flew in the face of the "type of society [Google/Apple] claim to support and defend”.

Apple’s investigation continues, but Google’s concluded that Absher did not violate its terms of service.

Globalisation drives corporations to adapt their operations to contrasting world cultures. A prime example is Google’s own Dragonfly project, a controversially pre-censored search engine designed for China.

Yet the uproar over Absher crystallises fractures in contemporary economy and geopolitics.

As private companies increasingly perform state-like roles—collecting citizens’ data, or functioning as official mouthpieces—their subjective interpretations of a nation’s values become problematic.

Ought—and how might—we establish a common understanding of the values corporations should uphold in foreign dealings?

 

Credit for this article's header image goes to Getty.