US Congresswoman Jackie Speier confirms to Arab News Google will not remove Absher app from its store

The Absher website also provides information on how to report wanted persons, or administrative or financial corruption. (Supplied)
Updated 06 March 2019
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US Congresswoman Jackie Speier confirms to Arab News Google will not remove Absher app from its store

  • Office of California Congresswoman Jackie Speier confirmed she has been informed of tech firm’s decision
  • The controversy stems from criticisms that the app can be used by men to track women and restrict their travel

RIYADH: The office of California Congresswoman Jackie Speier on Tuesday confirmed to Arab News that Google has informed it that Absher, the Saudi government e-services app, does not violate any of its policies and will remain in the Google Play app store, as reported by Business Insider

The Democratic representative was one of 14 members of Congress who wrote to technology giants Apple and Google asking them to withdraw the app from their stores on the grounds that by hosting it they are “accomplices in the oppression of Saudi Arabian women.” The controversy stems from criticisms that the app can be used by men to track women and control where they travel.

Speier’s office confirmed that Google told the congresswoman it had reviewed the app but did not find it in violation of its terms or conditions. Apple are still looking into it, the office added.

In a statement on March 2, after learning of Google’s decision, Speier expressed disappointment at the responses from both companies.

“The responses received so far from Apple and Google are unsatisfactory,” she said. “As of today, the Absher app remains available in both the Apple App store and the Google Play store even though they can easily remove it. Not only do they have the capability to take action, they have done so previously with the removal of the Living Hope Ministries app, which encouraged users to ‘convert’ LGBTQ individuals, based on its ability to cause harm.

“Facilitating the detention of women seeking asylum and fleeing abuse and control unequivocally causes harm. To say I’m disappointed in their failure to show a sustained commitment to human rights is an understatement. I will be following up on this issue with my colleagues.”

Google declined to comment when contacted by Arab News. 

Absher, Saudi Arabia’s “one-click” e-services app, was launched by the Interior Ministry in 2015. Regarded as the leading government platform for Saudi citizens and expats, it provides easy and quick access to 150 services and features.

“The number of women using Absher increased remarkably in 2018,” Absher manager Atiyah Al-Anzy told Arab News. “We found female users have more services now, with driving licenses, account registration, so they have more need.”

Brig. Gen. Khaled Alkhesifan, the deputy director of technology at Jawazat, the passport agency, said: “People will now be able to open bank accounts through Absher. We always listen to our customers through social media and if there’s a demand for certain services, we do our best to arrange it.” The total number of Absher users has reached 11.6 million, he added.

In a recent New York Times article, the app was criticized as a “tool of repression” following claims by Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and human-rights groups. 

The Saudi Ministry of Interior criticized what it described as attempts to politicize the use of technology that represents the legitimate rights of its users.


Saudi capital to get world’s biggest park in $23bn project

Updated 17 min 40 sec ago
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Saudi capital to get world’s biggest park in $23bn project

  • The project will see 7.5m trees planted and the creation of the world's biggest park
  • There will be 70,000 jobs created across the four major projects

RIYADH: The world’s biggest park will be created in Saudi Arabia as part of a $22.9bn project that promises to create vast open green areas in Riyadh, creating thousands of new jobs, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday

The aim of the project is to “significantly improve the lives of its citizens, transform the city into an attractive destination and make it one of the world’s most livable cities,” the report added.

The four projects - King Salman Park, Sports Boulevard, Green Riyadh and Riyadh Art – will complement the Saudi Vision 2030’s “Quality of Life” Program and are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to create sustainable cities and communities, while driving urgent action against climate change.

Developed with a government investment of $23 bn, the four projects will offer opportunities worth $15bn for the private sector to invest in residential, commercial, recreational and wellness projects.

As well as creating tens of thousands of new jobs, the project will also help boost efforts to improve the city’s health and wellbeing with a commitment to wellness, health, sports, culture and the arts, underpinned by a commitment to environmental sustainability.

Measuring 13.4 square kilometers, King Salman Park will be the world’s biggest park, with residential areas, hotels, and will also feature a Royal Arts Complex, theaters, museums, cinemas, sports venues, water features, restaurants and an 18-hole Royal Golf Course.

The park will also boast several landmark assets, including the Riyadh Fountains and a Vertical Garden. As an environmentally sustainable urban development, it will offer opportunities for the international community in arts, entertainment and culture.

Image: riyadhgreen.sa

One of the world’s largest urban greening projects, Green Riyadh will increase Riyadh’s green cover with 7.5 million trees.

The massive planting project will help increase the city’s green cover from 1.5 percent of Riyadh’s total area to 9.1 percent – that’s approximately 541 square kilometers, by 2030.

Image: riyadhgreen.sa

Green space availability will increase to 28 square meters per capita from the current 1.7 square meters per capita, compared to the World Health Organization’s recommendation of 9 square meters per capita.

Green Riyadh will help reduce average ambient temperature by 2C, and will use more than 1 million cubic meters of treated sewage daily for irrigation, for the sustainability of water resources in the city.

Image: riyadhgreen.sa

Sports Boulevard  - a health and wellness destination in the heart of the city- will feature a 135 kilometer-long professional cycling track covering the city and the surrounding valleys, the first of its kind in the region.

Adding 3.5 million square meters of new open space across the city, this grand project will also feature a sports pavilion, riding stables and athletics tracks.

Riyadh Art will be the world’s largest government investment in public art and will establish the city as “a gallery without walls” through a world-class interactive public arts program.

With 1,000 artworks curated through 10 separate programs and an annual arts festival, this project will feature large-scale art works with the aim of drawing art lovers and creators from around the world.

The projects are part of Saudi Arbia’s strategy to meet their Vision 2030 goals, they are expected to provide 70,000 new job opportunities.

Construction work is due to start in the second half of 2019.