News / USA

Google Goes Back To Iran

Working with the US government, the computer giant Google has announced it will again begin distributing its products in Iran. Will this make the web safer for Iranian web users?

Google Goes Back To Iran
Google Goes Back To Iran

In the wake of Iran's controversial 2009 presidential elections, millions of Iranians took to the web to trade information, organize, and communicate within their nation and with the rest of the world.  Until, that is, Tehran decided to tighten the Internet's spigot and began a serious campaign to restrict web and mobile usage.

Iran still bans many foreign-based websites, such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.  And US law prohibits the export of most software-based products to Iran.  However this week, following lengthy and complex negotiations, Google announced its products will again be available to Iranian web users.

Scott Rubin
Scott Rubin

Scott Rubin is Google's director of public policy and communications strategy.

"The citizens of Iran will be able to download three Google products: Google Chrome, which is our browser, Picasa, which is our photo-sharing software, and Google Earth, which provides users a 3-D way to scan and world, and users can add their own layers to earth to create their own version about what they want to share with people about the world where they live."

The trade and export sanctions against Iran date back as far as the 1980's, but companies such as Google can apply for narrow trade licenses to the US State Department.  Google still has to abide by the overall sanctions - it can't offer more products than specifically detailed yet - and per US law, these new Google downloads will block all IP addresses associated with the Iranian government.

However, Rubin says these three products could greatly enhance how Iranians share information with each other and the rest of the world online.

"There are millions and millions of people (online in Iran)," says Rubin, "and one of our core missions at Google is to provide access to information around the world.  For all this time, this particular way to share information has not been available to the people of Iran."

The three Google downloads - all free - will allow Iranian users to scan and share photos, to document the physical world around them adding any text or information overlays they wish with Google Earth, and surf the net with Chrome, which Rubin describes as a very secure browswer.

"If you think about what happened after the elections in Iran in 2009 when foreign journalists were expelled or their licenses were revoked to practice journalism," notes Rubin, "the people of Iran used tools like YouTube and Twitter to share what was happening.  This is just one more step to opening up the world, even in countries where information is restricted."

Interestingly, Google's trade license would have permitted the distribution of Google Chat, but company officials had too many 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," says Rubin.

The Google downloads are all free and available to users in Iran at

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

Doug Bernard

Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs