Cupertino, we have a problem. On one hand, Apple says it obeys the laws of the land, wherever the land might be. That explains why Apple remains in cahoots with China, Russia, and other totalitarian states (add Australia to the list) that demand the iPhone maker store some customer data on their homelands.
On the other hand, Apple is under increasing pressure to give up even more customer information in so-called lands of freedom. Remember, the F.B.I. wants to crack open terrorist iPhones, and Apple said no. Well, it might be illegal or immoral to track people without their permission in the U.S., but what about, oh, I don’t know, say– Saudi Arabia?
That’s what the Absher app does.
Put one way, Absher allows parents to track their children. Put another way, it allows Saudi men to track their wives and even prevent them from leaving the country. What’s wrong with that? If it’s legal in Saudi Arabia then what would Apple have to worry about?
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both expressed concern about the two tech giants making the app available for download, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden formally called on Apple and Google to remove the app.
Here’s the deal. If the app is not performing an illegal act or breaking laws in one country, is Apple (and Google; the same app runs on Android devices, of course) required to ban it from the App Store?
Whose laws should govern Apple’s behavior regarding Absher? U.S. laws? Or, Saudi Arabia’s laws? As you might suspect, members of Congress have weighed in on the issue:
The ingenuity of American technology companies should not be perverted to violate the human rights of Saudi women. Twenty first century innovations should not perpetuate sixteenth century tyranny. Keeping this application in your stores allows your companies and your American employees to be accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women and migrant workers. We ask that your companies remove Absher from your app stores.
Put another way, Apple should ban iPhone sales and App Store sales to people who lie, or to people who drive too fast, or to politicians.
Should governments in one country demand action of a corporation that operates in another country, even when laws are not broken? Did those same members of the U.S. Congress tell Apple not to sell iPhones in China and Russia because those governments are totalitarian and a refuge for dictators?
Apple has a problem with privacy and tracking. The company wants more privacy for customers, and inhibits third party trackers in many ways, yet must adhere to the laws in countries where it operates. If laws are not being broken, or if iPhone and iPad apps are used for purposes deemed irresponsible in one country– but not illegal– should Apple intervene?
Late last summer Apple removed Alex Jones’ Infowars app from the App Store but what laws did Jones’ break to deserve such action?
Yes, Apple sets a standard for privacy and tracking and public decency but the policy seems to have legs that run in many directions at the same time.