After that, I reported how Google and Apple host the app on Google Play and the App Store. Rights groups slammed the tech pair, but Google refused to take the app down, saying it didn't violate its terms of service.

Tim Cook promised Apple would look into it, but it's been a month and Apple won't respond to calls to come clean from politicians like Senator Ron Wyden, Rep. Jackie Speier, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Sen. Marco Rubio.

Using the app, men click on and off permissions for women to travel, effectively trapping them in the country. Many high-profile escapees hack into their legal guardians accounts on the app and give themselves permission to travel before they flee.

Men can use these travel tools under the same Islamic law which kept a US citizen trapped in Saudi Arabia with her 4-year-old daughter even though her husband had divorced her.

The Saudi government says the app is a technological marvel, and it makes life much easier for people in Saudi Arabia. They did not comment on the travel permissions tool. AMA.


UPDATE: Thanks everyone for your great questions and comments. I'm signing off. Feel free to reach out at [email protected] & follow me on Twitter @billbostockUK

Comments: 1032 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

the_frat_god1736 karma

One of my good friends is a 23 y/o girl from Saudi Arabia. She's extremely angry about how the Western media covered the story without understanding the cultural background and implications of removing it.

She has studied in America and is quite progressive. Her argument is that the app makes it easier for women to get approval, without needing to directly ask a relative face-to-face where they might say no. This flexibility made her life (and approval from her father to travel) much easier and allowed her to travel widely. Now that you're trying to lead a push to remove it, she fears the system will regress.

You seem to not understand that women don't have permission to travel without approval anyway and they ARE trapped. This app makes it easier for them to get approval.

I'm not saying that the system is right, it is deeply flawed, but do you actually think that removing this app is a net positive for Saudi women?

How would you respond to this?

thisisinsider129 karma

Yes it's a great point.

The app has made it easier to an extent as your friend has attested. I have been told the same by others.

My take was on a broader level, less specific than individual cases. The point of putting pressure on Apple and Google for hosting the app was to make these companies, who wholly advocate western values, think about whether they should be hosting an app which represents the oppressive guardianship system the app enables.

Only by incremental pressure and change can we really expect a country like Saudi Arabia, which has run itself in the same way since XYZ, to potentially think about moving away from some anachronistic laws. Writing about the app, and then asking Google and Apple to face upto it, is one of those increments.

thisisinsider43 karma

As for removing the app entirely, that is not my intention. My hope was that Apple and Google would go to the Saudi Ministry of the Interior and said 'we can't feasibly allow tools like this on apps,' and a dialogue would open. Here's hoping, it may be naive.

chazchaz101994 karma

I've seen an argument that this app makes it easier for women there to leave their homes without being accompanied by a male relative, and that getting rid of it and going back to the previous system would be a net negative in terms of autonomy for women in Saudi Arabia. How would you respond to that argument?

thisisinsider433 karma

I would say the ultimate aim of the discussion around the app is to make Saudi Arabia rethink it's guardianship laws. Yes, that argument you mention is important, it does make life easier that's very true.

However, just because the app makes life a little easier it does not render merited criticism against the guardianship system which the app represents obsolete.

Pressure on the app, and the government behind it, will hopefully, force questions into the guardianship system at large.

RoadHustler945 karma

Does reporting on a country known for abduction, torture and murder alter your day to day behavior?

thisisinsider1241 karma

It's hard not to imagine the feeling of a bonesaw, as Mr. Khashoggi reportedly may have experienced. So I suppose I am never going to travel to Saudi Arabia, just in case.

Ghawblin43 karma

Thanks for bringing this type of thing to light!

While Google and Apple host this, even if they didn't, it's fairly trivial to install apps outside of their respective stores (moreso on Android)

While I personally think Google and Apple should remove the app, I also see why they would want to adhere to their TOS to the letter.

What can we do about this other than public outcry?

thisisinsider31 karma

Good q. I think that asides from pressuring political representatives it's hard to mobilise support.
Saudi are a key source of financial gain for many countries, and therefore it would be risky to enrage.

Hopefully a continued attack on Saudi's reputation may force MBS into making a change on his own terms. We will see!

Polok096135 karma

How many womans do you think are affected by this ? and and why do you think that some politicians don't comment about this?

thisisinsider89 karma

Every woman in Saudi Arabia needs permission to travel, and therefore can be monitored using the app.

thisisinsider40 karma

I think politicians are unsure how to force Saudi's arm. They love to criticise companies or their own governments for associating with Saudi Arabia, but they don't know enough about domestic Saudi politics to speak about it often and in detail. Much of the day-to-day running of the state is a mystery.

thetapasbalu15 karma

Did you get any invitation to visit Saudi Arabia consulate?

thisisinsider29 karma

Sadly not. Not even a birthday card.

timfrommac15 karma

Do you think if this app were being used by, for example, Mormons in the US that it would be looked at by Apple quicker/differently?

thisisinsider19 karma

Likely yes, as federal and state law may come into play more easily. But then again, Apple stand by their terms of service in a big way, and what they say about an app usually means the end of discussions.

GourdGuard11 karma

What's the foundation of their argument for the existence of guardianship laws?

KetordinaryDay11 karma

Wow thank you for reporting on this. Have you revecived any backlash fron Saudi officials (yet)?

thisisinsider22 karma

Not a thing. They don't often respond to reporters. I did open my Twitter one day and it was in Arabic, but that's the extent of my worry.

They also put out a statement in criticism of the media's coverage of the app. See here:

TheIrithyllViper7 karma

What do you believe is most important factor in breaking the cycle on the way these countries have handled the treatment of women for generations before and quite possibly generations to come?

I feel I'm reading new developments on the extent of control that they have over these women almost daily.

thisisinsider10 karma

I think it will take a decision from the Saud royal family. Crown Prince bin Salman was labelled a reformer, and people hoped he could change the situation.

So, I think at the moment he is the best chance of change. He has far-from delivered on that promise. Failing that, external pressure form other national governments will be key, if they can separate their financial motives from moral issues.

It will be a gradual process, and change won't come fast.

bobelloba5 karma

Have you asked any women from Saudi Arabia about their thoughts on the app/ your article?

thisisinsider16 karma

Yes, the Saudi woman I interviewed in the first hyperlinked piece at the top!

DontPressAltF4-8 karma

Why are journalists always so damn sure that the public NEEDS TO KNOW their names?

Which is more important, the story, or the writer?

And how do you fit that ego in your suit?

thisisinsider5 karma

I think Reddit make you do it to prove who you are.