Saudi Arabia women
Saudi women walk inside the Faysalia mall in Riyadh, Sept. 26, 2011. Getty Images/AFP/Fayez Nureldine

Absher, a Saudi Arabian government app released in 2011 that allows men to restrict and monitor the travel of women, continues to raise concerns from human-rights groups with renewed calls against two major tech giants.

Absher, which means "your request shall be fulfilled," can be downloaded on both the Google Play Store and the Apple Store. The app assists Saudis in carrying out bureaucratic services such as passport renewal, paying traffic tickets and applying for national identification cards. Before it was released, Saudi women needed a permission card to leave the country.

The app has drawn strong criticism from Human Rights Watch (HRW), which urged Apple and Google to take it down.

In a report released Monday — "Saudi Arabia's Absher App: Controlling Women's Travel While Offering Government Services" — HRW argued that Google and Apple are violating the United Nations Guiding Principles on Human Rights, which states that private companies should assess whether their business activities negatively impact human rights.

"It is unconscionable that Apple and Google are making it easier to track women and control when and how they travel. These countries shouldn't enable these abusive practices against women in Saudi Arabia," Sen. Rob Wyden of Oregon posted on Twitter in February.

After Wyden's comments, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he was unaware of Absher but would "take a look at it." After reviewing the app in March, Google concluded that it didn't violate its terms of service and would remain on Google Play.

HRW noted that they were contacted by some Saudi Arabian women who said the app might actually help them leave the country, as a family member sympathetic to them might use Absher to grant them permission to leave.

But HRW maintains that the app and male guardianship system as a whole seriously hampers the professional advancement of women in the conservative country, as women who may need to travel as part of their job or to attend a university abroad cannot do so without permission. Saudi women have also sought to leave the country due to violence and domestic abuse.

Another human rights issue with the app is that it also allows Saudis to control the movement of foreign nationals in the country's visa sponsorship system known as Kefala. Under the Kefala system, the legal status of the foreign national is controlled by their sponsor.

The HRW report comes after a report from Reuters on April 25 about two Saudi sisters seeking asylum in the country of Georgia had urged Apple and Google to pull Absher.