Google allows Iran software downloads

A lifting of US trade restrictions has allowed Google to offer downloads of Google Earth in Iran. However, Google's own traffic tool shows that Iranians have been using the tool for years

Google has officially allowed Iranian users to download Google Earth, Picasa and Chrome after US trade restrictions were lifted.

Google Iran downloads

People in Iran are now able to download Google Earth, Chrome and Picasa after US trade restrictions were lifted. Photo credit: Google

People in Iran have been using Google Earth for at least the past two years, despite the export ban on the Google Earth client, according to Google's Transparency Report, which tracks traffic to and from the company's front-end servers.

Nevertheless, the search and advertising giant said in a blog post on Tuesday that it had unblocked downloads of the geographical imaging software client, as well as the Chrome web browser and Picasa photo-sharing software.

"We're committed to full compliance with US export controls and sanctions programmes and, as a condition of our export licenses from the Treasury Department, we will continue to block IP addresses associated with the Iranian government," Neil Martin, Google export compliance programs manager, said in the blog post.

A Google spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that the company's Transparency Report showed that Iranians had been using Google Earth, which requires a software client to operate on a PC or other device. The Transparency Report tool shows a historical graph of traffic between Google servers and users in a chosen country, with the idea that a change in normal patterns of traffic would indicate a blockage.

The Transparency Report graph on Thursday did not show any rise in the flow of data with Iran, as might be expected after the lifting of restrictions.

Google's spokesman said that "no conclusions" about the number of Iranian users could be drawn from the graph. "Google's Transparency Report data is normalised and scaled in a way that obfuscates the raw traffic numbers," said the spokesman. "What this means is that only relative data from a given time period is visible in the graphs. So no conclusions should be drawn about the amount of traffic currently displayed for Iran."

The spokesman declined to say how many people were using Google Earth in Iran, and said he would not speculate as to how users had downloaded the Google Earth client before it was officially made available.

Web blocking

People can circumvent web-blocking technologies in a number of ways, including peer-to-peer file-sharing. More elaborate methods include using proxy machines to mask the geographical location of users.

Google uses web blocking by IP address around the world, to comply with local regulations, the company's spokesman said.

No conclusions should be drawn about the amount of traffic currently displayed for Iran.

– Google spokesman

Iran itself has blocked Google software. YouTube has been blocked by Iranian authorities since 12 June, 2009, following demonstrations after a disputed presidential election. Iran may yet decide to block Google Earth, the spokesman said.

"We're used to seeing global services blocked, unblocked and blocked again — there's no real way of predicting," said the spokesman. "Blocking of web services will be up to the government of Iran."

Protest movements have used Google Maps as a tool to organise demonstrations, and the spokesman said that Google Earth may be used in the same way in Iran.

"People build all kinds of layers onto Google Earth, and some have a political overlay," said the spokesman. "People have very creative ways of using [online tools], which is part of the power of the internet."

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