February 22, 2019, Washington, D.C. — Last month the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) sent a letter to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, calling for the removal of “Smart Pakem,” an app available on the Google Play Store. The Indonesian government created the app to enable mobile phone users to report individuals suspected of “religious heresy.”
While Google has yet to respond to the letter, or remove the app, it recently joined Apple in “promising to investigate a Saudi app that lets men control women's travel,” according to a recent report. Google should treat Smart Pakem with the same degree of scrutiny.
Smart Pakem has been available for download on Google Play since Nov. 25, 2018. RFI’s letter warned Google that the app includes “a list of purported, forbidden beliefs and banned organizations, a directory of fatwas, and a form to report complaints about religious beliefs or sects. It also lists minority sects, such as the Ahmadiyya and Shia Muslims, as holding deviant religious beliefs, names their leaders, and gives their Indonesian office addresses.”
Unfortunately, Indonesia’s move toward democracy in the late 1990s “has been accompanied by a strengthening of religiously extreme groups and a concomitant growth in the number of people accused of blasphemy.” The creation of this troubling app further illustrates the course Indonesia has been on for decades when it comes to religious minorities.
RFI’s letter reminds Google that “Don’t be evil” has long been the tech giant’s “unofficial motto and the cornerstone of its code of conduct.” It pointedly observes that “Google Play’s policy forbids ‘apps that promote violence, or incite hatred against individuals or groups based on...religion...or any other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization.’”
Google reportedly removed tens of thousands of apps in 2017 for violating this policy and removed many more in 2018. Smart Pakem should have been counted among them. Google can still do the right thing and pull down this pernicious app that threatens the religious freedom of millions in Indonesia.
The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.
Media Contact: Nathan Berkeley