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Google offers software downloads in Iran

John D. Sutter
Iranians used the internet to organize anti-government protests in 2009. This TwitPic purportedly shows such a demonstration.
Iranians used the internet to organize anti-government protests in 2009. This TwitPic purportedly shows such a demonstration.
  • Google offers three software downloads in Iran
  • The company had been unable to offer such downloads before because of U.S. sanctions
  • The programs offered are Chrome, Picasa and Google Earth

(CNN) -- The search giant Google has announced it will offer software downloads in Iran for the first time -- a move it says will increase internet freedom.

"Our products are specifically designed to help people create, communicate, share opinions and find information. And we believe that more available products means more choice, more freedom, and ultimately more power for individuals in Iran and across the globe," the company said in a statement posted Tuesday on its official blog.

Google will offer three downloads in that Middle Eastern country, which has a history of tense relations with the United States: Chrome, which is a Web browser; Picasa, which is a photo-sharing service; and Google Earth, which lets internet users explore global topography and maps in three dimensions.

Such downloads had been blocked by U.S. sanctions, but those sanctions were loosened somewhat, and Google says it was able to strike a deal with the U.S. Treasury Department to offer the software in Iran. To comply with U.S. law, computers associated with the Iranian government will not be able to access the online software, Google says.

The company cited the internet's role in organizing protests against the Iranian government in 2009 as a reason these kinds of programs are needed.

"During the protests that erupted in Iran following the disputed Presidential election in June 2009, the central government in Tehran deported all foreign journalists, shut down traditional media outlets, closed off print journalism and disrupted cell phone lines," Google says. "The government also infiltrated networks, posing as activists and using false identities to round up dissidents.

"In spite of this, the sharing of information using the internet prevailed. YouTube and Twitter were cited by journalists, activists and bloggers as the best source for firsthand accounts and on-the-scene footage of the protests and violence across the country. At the time, though, U.S. export controls and sanctions programs prohibited software downloads to Iran."

The Telegraph, a British newspaper, cautions against reading too much into this view, writing that Twitter "appears to have had a limited impact" in the changing the results of a disputed election or encouraging democracy.

The BBC notes that other communication tools have been blocked in Iran:

"Google-owned YouTube was used during the Iranian protests that followed the presidential election in June 2009. It offered eye-witness reports but was quickly blocked by the Iranian government, a ban that has never been lifted. Gmail also remains blocked."

And The Guardian offers a look at the history of the U.S. sanctions against Iran, which you can also read about on the U.S. Treasury's website (PDF):

"Sanctions imposed by the UN and by the U.S., first introduced under Ronald Reagan's administration in 1984, limit trade with Iran. Although Web-based services have been accessible to internet users in Iran, offering product downloads has been restricted until now."

Voice of America News says that Google could have offered its instant-messaging product, Google Chat, in Iran, too, but chose not to because of "concerns that security and privacy of users could too easily be breached by Iranian Web snooping."

"It's a balancing act between providing information but doing it in a way that doesn't compromise people's safety," Google's Scott Rubin told Voice of America.


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