Riyadh: Saudi Arabia has defended a mobile app that allows men in the kingdom to track female relatives after rights groups and a US lawmaker criticised tech giants for offering it. The Absher app provides services for “all members of the society… including women, the elderly, and people with special needs”, the interior ministry said.

The free app is available on Android and Apple smartphones and allows users to renew passports, visas and eases a variety of other electronic services. But critics have said the app enables abuse against women and girls by allowing men to track their movements. Apple CEO Tim Cook told US National Public Radio had not heard of the app, but would “take a look at it”.

US Senator Ron Wyden has called on both Apple and Google to remove the app, arguing on Twitter that it promotes “abusive practises against women”. Under Saudi law, women must have consent from a husband or immediate male relative to renew passports or leave  the country.

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