• ADVERTISEMENT

    Google Blocks Chrome Browser Use in Syria, Iran

    by Jessica Dheere
    October 13, 2008

    Recently, I learned from Joshua Landis’ Syria Comment, my main source for news and analysis concerning Lebanon’s eastern neighbor, that Google has blocked the use of its new web browser, Chrome, in Syria.

    A quick Google search turned up a post by Syrian blogger Yaser Sadeq with an account of his abortive attempt to take the new browser for a spin, and another by Feras Allaou that chronicled his own unsuccessful attempts to download Google applications.

    In a way they [Google and the U.S.] are helping the people they passed these sanctions against." -- Syrian blogger Yaser Sadeq

    After getting error messages while trying to download Google Talk, Gmail Notifier, and Chrome, Allaou wrote that he “figured out 100% that Google censored Syria from taking advantage of their programs.”

    ADVERTISEMENT

    It seems like a strange move for a company that has focused so intently on the Middle Eastern and North African markets, with versions of Knol, Blogger, iGoogle, Docs, and, most recently, Chat in Arabic. But he was right.

    Remarkably, the block wasn’t the work of the Syrian government — which has banned numerous sites in the past, including Facebook, Skype, and several blogging platforms — but that of Google itself. According to a Google spokesperson, in order for the company to abide by U.S. export controls and economic sanctions, “we are unable to permit the download of Google Chrome in Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Sudan.”

    It’s not the first time that Google has taken such action. Last year, the company justified restricting access to Google Earth in Sudan with practically the same statement.

    ADVERTISEMENT

    Nor is Google alone. The Register reported in November 2007 that Yahoo and Microsoft removed Iran from the drop-down list that lets users choose their country of origin when signing up for web mail. Yahoo also referred to U.S. law in explaining its decision: “Because the United States restricts U.S. businesses from conducting business in certain countries, Yahoo also ensured that these countries do not appear in the drop-down menu.”

    Getting Around the Blocks

    It seems silly to block the download of free and widely available software like Chrome, but we can’t blame companies for trying to comply with the law. However, information travels fluidly on the Net, so the law has a hard time keeping up. And that’s troubling, because the U.S. can be seen as inhibiting access to information or possibly even stifling free speech in the very countries whose censorship and repression it condemns.

    A recent overview of U.S. export controls and economic sanctions prepared by the Washington, D.C. technology law firm Harris, Wiltshire, & Grannis warns that the law now affects “a much wider range of international transactions” than it did a decade ago. “Moreover, these measures reach activities that are either completely domestic or unlikely to be viewed as having an international aspect,” the report says.
    And some of these measures, at least in the case of the search engines, don’t really appear to work.

    i-a5094d16a8ff09b333e5513d7da01657-hello yahoo mail.jpg

    Case in point: Although Yahoo removed Iran from the drop-down list, Iranians were still using Yahoo services, according to Kourosh Ziabari, an Iranian journalist and blogger who wrote about the issue for the citizen journalism site OhMyNews.

    “[Iranians are using] Yahoo services, downloading new versions of Messenger, using the different web site parts but not finding the name of their country in the sign-up list,” Ziabari wrote. “In fact, if an Iranian user wanted to sign up for a new account in Yahoo mail, he should have selected the name of the other countries, and then he would proceed.”

    Ziabari and another blogger and student, Mohammad Tavakoli, organized an online campaign to protest the move by Yahoo to remove their country from the drop-down menu, which they considered “a mental war instead of a restriction of services” and an affront to their country’s “15,000 years of history.” The campaign consisted, ironically, of a Google bomb, a site whose metadata keywords don’t actually describe the content and drive searchers looking for one site elsewhere — in Ziabari’s case to Hello Yahoo Mail. The site still shows up on the first page of Google search results for yahoo mail.

    After I queried another Iranian blogger, Hamid Tehrani, who edits the Iran section for Global Voices, I found out that Chrome is blocked, along with other Google downloads, in Iran. But it’s relatively easy for Iranian users to get around this obstacle. Ziabari told me in an email (from his Gmail account) that he is still able to access Google services by using a proxy.

    “Currently, we are using all of the search engines and portals without any restriction, using the latest versions of Google Earth, Chrome, GTalk and any other downloadable product,” he said. In addition to helping users get around government filtering and censorship, proxies and anonymizers can also fool Google’s servers into thinking that the downloads were going elsewhere rather than to users in Iran.

    Advertising Despite Blocks

    Another curious aspect of this is that though Google blocks Syrians and Iranians from accessing these programs, it still serves them ads. According to Sadeq, Google AdWords ads appear on websites and blogs in Syria just as they do elsewhere. Sadeq double-checked that this was the case and that clicking through didn’t pose any problems. “Moreover,” he said, “I don’t think there is a problem in setting up an [AdSense] account for one’s blog/website (I tried it once in my blog).”

    How did he set up the AdSense account? When asked what country he was from, he simply chose Lebanon because Syria wasn’t an option. The account was easily set up that way.

    Export Administration Regulations do restrict the dissemination of software that could, say, help build weapons, but make exceptions for “publicly available” programs, “the idea being that people are unlikely to disseminate free of charge the really significant technology,” according to the Harris Wiltshire & Grannis review. But review author Cecil Hunt explains: “For Iran and Syria, the availability of this exception is likely to be moot, due to the pervasive embargo administered by [the Office of Foreign Asset Controls] OFAC.” OFAC administers U.S. trade sanctions programs.

    A 2003 OFAC ruling (PDF file) concerning Internet connectivity in Iran supports this conclusion. Even though OFAC found that “the provision by U.S. persons of international Internet connectivity services to civilian customers in Iran can be authorized on a case-by-case basis…provided that the main purpose is to benefit the people of Iran through increased access to information,” it also held that U.S. software, whether or not it originates in the U.S., cannot be exported “directly or indirectly” to Iran by U.S. citizens.

    In a different 2003 ruling on posting information from Iran, OFAC found that “the listing of basic information on a website in a uniform format [like an ad] for companies around the world, including Iran, by a U.S. person, is not prohibited.” However, it also said that providing marketing services, like creating an AdWords account, would be prohibited.

    What Do the Blocks Accomplish?

    So what if Syrians and Iranians can’t use Chrome? There are a lot of other browsers and software out there not subject to U.S. law.

    In an email, Sadeq, who says he’s downloaded Firefox and Adobe software with no problem, offered an answer in two parts.

    First, he expressed disappointment in Google, which had “earned a reputation here and elsewhere to be the good guys,” he said. “They gave the impression that they depart from the big corporation mentality and attitude, which gave them credit in this part of the world. For that reason you don’t hear of someone boycotting a Google service or product.”

    And then he gets to the heart of the matter, noting that the sanctions don’t really do what they are intended to do.

    “Those sanctions have no impact whatsoever on our government except denying the Syrian people much needed hardware and products (and lately online services) that would help us improve our economy and get out of the yoke of economic misery that the regime uses to stay in power,” he said. “So in a way they [Google and the U.S.] are helping the people they passed these sanctions against.”

    Jessica Dheere is a freelance journalist and media consultant in Beirut. She directs the Social Media Exchange, which provides training to civil society actors in the strategic use of social media for social change, and also teaches workshops in online and citizen journalism in the Journalism Training Program at the American University of Beirut.

    Tagged: chrome google iran sanctions syria
    • Sean

      Google should have been completely boycotted forever when they put the bullsh** name arabian gulf along side the real name of the Persian Gulf.

      These dweebs are getting too full of themselves at Google. And, have joined the ranks of the butt-kissers of the US government, Israel and Sunni Arabs.

      Rather pathetic.

    • Concerned

      Thank you Jessica for talking about this issue. I think this not about the US sanction, it is all about Google’s short-sightedness. These guys at least could explain in their Error message why they block us from using Chrome in Syria.
      It is not clear for me yet whether Google wants to block Syrians or anyone in Syria to use Chrome or other their products. Besides, if someone downloads Chrome outside of Syria and the returns to Syria, would it be possible to use it?

    • Google and US gov are not allowing ads that serve serve their commercial purposes but at the same time blocking free-for-all internet products and services that can help Iranian and Syrian people. What a shame.

      I suggest the Iran and Syria should filterGoogle and Yahoo services and have agreements of service provision with non US especially Russian, Chiness search engines and online services.

      Only by doing this they can force Google and Yahoo to be fair in business and also they can develop their online (and advertising) services and business against the dominent Google and Yahoo.

    • Steve – Australia

      The era of sanctions is expired at all. You must talk to Iran to solve your problems, otherwise you would be isolated “yourself”. Hundreds of Non Aligend countries are the regular fans of Iran… Serving the interests of US by altercating with other countries doesn’t work anymore. Iran is not the country of 30 years ago to be isolated by sanctions and some things like that. I am just regretful that Omid Kurdistani (The Iranian CEO manager of Google) doesn’t resgin from that nonesense company.

    • lorry

      Perhaps president Bush is working to promote a type of US-produced democracy there in Iran and Syria such as he did in Afghanistan and Iraq.
      He also has the same problems with Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, China, Russia and half of the world that are escaping from American monarchy!
      What about evcuating all of the world from citizens and dispatch them to Mars or Jupiter, maybe president will succeed to climb the mountains of peace and stability?

    • It’s great to see people taking an interest in this issue. The bloggers I interviewed were also grateful that someone was telling this story. Concerned, I agree with you that the least the companies could do is explain why the software downloads are blocked. This would raise awareness that would have the potential to generate action that, in turn, might help produce laws that demonstrate a better understanding of not only how information travels on the Internet but also of who suffers from economic sanctions and how.

    • HL

      It is a pity that a technology which could help understanding among people and help one to educate himself is submitted to the shortsightedness of today’s politics.
      Google was created by a bunch of “cool guys”. They turn to be less and less cool and more and more in the surveillance industry.

    • For Cuba, I was the first to do a report of the fact. In french but directly and live from Cuba the day the download was available:
      http://www.boxsociety.com/2008/09/02/google-chrome-404-not-found/

    • why google is doing these kind of things ?
      i they don’t want chrome will become number 1 browser :)

    • Jerry Weiss

      Why the gripe? Google is free to the user, so Google shouldn’t be required to do what the freebie-users want.

      If others want something like this so bad, or if they think that this would help their own people’s position on this earth, then build your own version of Google and it’s features.

      Quit telling other people what to do when you do nothing but TAKE AND DO NOT CONTRIBUTE.

    • I sow that Youtube is banned in Turkey. Turkish people love their president ,and somebody (probably Kurdish people) placed a video shownig him as a gay and alcoholic ,and Turkish government banned Youtube.

    • Google’s code of conduct is simple:

      Do no evil (as defined by the US State Department under advisement from the Presidency with input from sufficiently powerful religious organizations).

    • @Soko, yeah Youtube is banned in Turkey, but it seems to be platform specific, if you connect with an ipod touch through the youtube interface then you can get it in turkey :)

    • KMansfield

      They aren’t the good guys anymore.
      They block documents and searches for the US government, and provide your surfing history to them, and all the contents of your email. If you use the browser plugin they collect even more information on you.. Use scroogle if you want to avoid data collecton on particular searches.

    • Ehsanٍ

      why make so much hue and cry when Iran refuses to concede its nuclear power program despite what the rest of the world wants? If they want to stand up to the rest of the world, then Google Chrome shouldn’t be very important for them after all. Don’t they say the sanctions make them stronger? Then let them build another Google for themselves and ban it for the rest of the world.

    • The third version of Chrome is now available.

    • I sow that Youtube is banned in Turkey. Turkish people love their president ,and somebody (probably Kurdish people) placed a video shownig him as a gay and alcoholic ,and Turkish government banned Youtube.

    • I sow that Youtube is banned in Turkey. Turkish people love their president ,and somebody (probably Kurdish people) placed a video shownig him as a gay and alcoholic ,and Turkish government banned Youtube.

    • John

      Do No Evil. Google was the anti-Microsoft. A monopoly company which resembled the U.S. government. How? Both are monopolies in their category. They exploit their size and power in order to look after interests at any expense. User/citizen is second in priority, if at all. Profit is #1. Anyway, unfortunately, for whatever reason the once “can do no bad” Google has turned on us. not long ago they said no to the U.S. gov when Yahoo had bent over when they asked for search histories to be turned over.

      Who knows the reasons… Greed? Favors? Maybe constant pressure. Think about it, if I was the U.S. and I knew of a company that has ACCUMULATED so much info on people, places, searches, etc. I would do everything in my power every day to try to take over/have control/influence in that “goldmine”.

      I believe more people are waking up and realizing the realities of the world. If you guys have time and would like to see how the world operates… check this video out.

      http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7065205277695921912

    • Why the gripe? Google is free to the user, so Google shouldn’t be required to do what the freebie-users want.

      If others want something like this so bad, or if they think that this would help their own people’s position on this earth, then build your own version of Google and it’s features.

      Quit telling other people what to do when you do nothing but TAKE AND DO NOT CONTRIBUTE.

    • Hi to every one. This is very nice

    • syavash azarmi

      Chrome is not available in your country!
      why?
      i’m using any browser i need,
      because just i live in this country i can’t use this product?! so why can we use others?!
      i am a network administrator, i think it is not a logic way.

    • Greg Luganus

      There is a number of tools out “there” on the internet that help bypass such sanctions set by the government.
      Most efficient, in my opinion, is a standalone executable called “Ultra Surf.”
      It was developed by Ultra Reach, a company advocating for a neutral, uncensored internet.
      Additionally, there is a huge number of proxy sites.
      So, stop ranting about these things.

    • just use SRware Iron which is based on chromes sourcecode minus the googles objectives.No information is sent to google in any form

    • Mohammad

      – All Google downloadable products have blocked Iranian IPs. As far as I know, services are not blocked, except Code Search.
      – All Sun Microsystems downloadable products are banned as well. Sun was perhaps the first company to block Iranian users (2005).
      – Perhaps all (or most of) financial services. I have even read that an American had checked his bank account from Iran, and found it frozen when he returned to the US.
      – Most recently, I passed by a (supposed) Google Video Ad which showed the “your country is blocked etc” instead. This was the first time I saw such a thing. Apparently they are lifting the ads. (Text Ads are still there)

    • I sow that Youtube is banned in Turkey. Turkish people love their president ,and somebody (probably Kurdish people) placed a video shownig him as a gay and alcoholic ,and Turkish government banned Youtube.

    • Very interesting, i didn’t knew that youtube is banned in turkey and that thing about their president…

    • Mohammad, did you try to “mask” the IP address? In linux it is easily possible, in win I am not sure. This means site will see that IP address of visitor is from somewhere else. Do you have same problem then too?

    • Mohammad, did you try to “mask” the IP address? In linux it is easily possible, in win I am not sure. This means site will see that IP address of visitor is from somewhere else. Do you have same problem then too?

    • I like google

    • Jessica

      More news from Syria–this time about LInkedIn blocking user profiles, and again citing the US Export Regulations Act. Any lawyers out there able to explain this overkill? Or where exactly the lines are?
      http://arabcrunch.com/2009/04/breaking-linkedin-kicks-off-syrian-users.html

    • Mohammad

      Honlapkeszites Budapest,
      Yes, that’s how tens of thousands of Iranians are still using Google and Sun’s products. In fact, much of Iran’s technology infrastructure runs on Java and Oracle, both of which are banned on Iranians.
      Sanctions are just plain stupid. Nothing can be really blocked on people nowadays (perhaps except entire airplanes).

    • I like google, but this is very bad news to hear for users who are blocked…

    • GOOGLE is the best internet browser.

    • These dweebs are getting too full of themselves at Google. And, have joined the ranks of the butt-kissers of the US government, Israel and Sunni Arabs.

    • de ste bre debili , sto prvi ne iskopate link nego samo idete ko pilici iza kvocke …

    • Request for the seriousness!

    • AreaMan

      Reading just Joshua Landis on Syria leaves out valuable viewpoints. See Tony Badran, for example.

    • Debil ti tata , a samo da te vidim jaooooooooo

    • Sta da me vidis? Da mi popusis kurac matori kretenu ?! Ili si zeljan batina ?

    • I like google, but this is very bad news to hear for users who are blocked…

    • Dear comment writers, please keep the conversation on English, so everybody can understand it. Thanks.

    • Google is the best browser and do not see what the problem is, I most like Google. A ti SCG si ga najebo kad dobijes poziv za SUD sta si sve radeo i sta jos uvek radis debilcino.

    • Well they can reach Google via proxy servers, thant no problem, a ti kašasta stvorevino masti, znoja i gnoja, duvaj ga malo, al pazi da ne preteraš, možda se navučeš :)

    • Very interesting Soko Banja!

    • hamid

      hello you must allow everyone in the world that get all your programs thank you

    • Google can do as she wants because it is undisputed browser.

    • Very ineresting comments, really, especially comming from sokobanja spa, keep it up!

    • Very interesting comments, keep it up boys!

    • Very interesting comments, keep it up boys!

    • Google is the biggest and best browser, Google could all work if it is in his interest…

    • There are a lot of comments, and almost all right, honestly I do not know and I’m very sorry for that.

    • Wonderful blog, BRAVO

    • eliza

      google is owned by a jew who donates money to israel the money is used to expand illegal settlements on Palestinian land.exposed by boycott and divesment campaign againstIsrael. no wonder they help US.

    • eliza

      google is owned by a jew who donates money to israel the money is used to expand illegal settlements on Palestinian land.exposed by boycott and divesment campaign againstIsrael. no wonder they help US.

    • eliza

      google is owned by a jew who donates money to israel the money is used to expand illegal settlements on Palestinian land.exposed by boycott and divesment campaign againstIsrael. no wonder they help US.

    • eliza

      you should have told me you received first email Iwould not have kept sending it.Ithought spam filter was being spelt wrongly.Thank you.

    • Scary, is not only clear to me what they are used if the block search engine? Not Normal

    • I was just so much evil, but what to do, how to say “big fish eat little fish”

    • Much I like your blog is just great and a lot of useful!

    • Thank you for your explanation. There really useful information.

    • Everything is normal, Google’s largest and best search engine in the world, and it can be to do what and how they want.

    • Google Search Engine the best and largest in the world, is now blocked and why it was what google knows his team. Welcome ….

    • It is said that politics also involved in the online business. Look at what happened in China to Google. After a while they have realised that they have made a mistake. Now Google is getting back again.

    • It makes no sense to punish the people for what their governments do; especially when the people themselves are not decision-makers… but only puppets pulled in & out with strings of steel!!!
      Anyway, the Syrian Internet Browsers are not that stupid, they’ll figure a way out, if they haven’t already!!
      I guess it’s high time the US changes its policy and the US people open their eyes.

      Thank you for caring… :)

    • In addition to search engine google, there are many others like you Bing, Yahoo…
      Google is number one in the world and he can do whatever desire…

  • ADVERTISEMENT
  • ADVERTISEMENT
  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »

    Follow us on Social Media

    @MediaShiftorg
    @Mediatwit
    @MediaShiftPod
    Facebook.com/MediaShift