Bill Bostock, Business Insider:
Google has declined to remove from its app store a Saudi government app which lets men track women and control where they travel, on the grounds that it meets all their terms and conditions.
Google reviewed the app — called Absher — and concluded that it does not violate any agreements, and can therefore remain on the Google Play store.
The decision was communicated by Google to the office of Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who, with other members of Congress, wrote last week to demand they remove the service.
Apple has also, so far, not removed Absher from the App Store. I wonder if, before starting their app marketplaces, either company considered that they could trigger a diplomatic crisis if they were to remove an app.
By the way, when I checked just now to see if Absher was still available in Apple’s App Store, I noticed that it had over six hundred reviews, with an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars. That’s unbelievable — as in, I literally cannot believe that a paperwork utility app created and distributed by a government agency could be so beloved. Even when sorting by “most critical”, the lowest rating seems to be a mistake; every other rating is at least four stars. Looking closer, it seems that a large number of reviews seem to have been posted in the last two weeks, and many of them mention how “well developed” the app is, how “useful” it is, and how it is used “by both genders” including “female citizens”. It seems unlikely to me that lots of people spontaneously decided to review this app recently using the same words.