• 27 May 2016
  • Posted By Emily Salwen
  • 0 Comments
  • Iranian Youth, Sanctions

When Google products that have been blocked for Iranians by the U.S. economic embargo suddenly became available in early May, many Iranians felt a glimmer of hope. For a brief moment, it appeared that Google Analytics, Google Developers and Android’s website for developers would join products like Gmail and the Google Play store that had been made accessible for Iranians over the past few years. Iranians reacted with excitement and positivity on twitter:

But just a few days later these products were once again inaccessible:

The reason for the reimposition of the ban is most likely the U.S. economic embargo on Iran. While many Google products have been exempted from the embargo over the past six years as part of an effort to ensure the sanctions no longer interfered with online communications, the trade embargo still remains in place for communications tools that have commercial applications.

Google Analytics is a service that tracks and records a website’s traffic and provides statistical analysis to help users understand and accommodate their user demographic. Google Developers, another commercial initiative, is a site that provides a forum for software developers, bringing together blogs, discussion groups and tools to encourage innovation and collaboration among users.

Due to sanctions, access to communications technology in Iran has been unstable. During Iran’s Green Movement, citizens mobilized using Facebook and Twitter, yet many of the tools that were being used were technically blocked by the U.S.. On one hand, American officials and lawmakers in 2009 were extolling the virtues of Internet freedom and criticizing the Iranian government’s crackdown on free expression, on the other hand the U.S. policy was to actually prohibit many of the tools necessary for such communications. Iranians were forced to circumvent not just their own government’s repression, but also the economic embargo.

In late 2009, the State and Treasury Departments began to address this contradiction by lifting the embargo on free communications software and offering a more streamlined policy for licensing the export of certain communications tools. It was a small but important step.

However, many of the sanctions remained in place — including not just on services like web hosting or paid software, but on hardware like laptops and phones. And especially as the U.S. expanded economic sanctions on Iran in 2012, there were further instances of communications technology being blocked. There were even several cases of Apple Store employees refusing to sell iPhones or iPads to Iranian Americans because of suspicions that they were going to be sent to family in Iran in violation of the embargo.

As the Apple incidents show, sanctions greatly impact businesses’ decision-making. In 2012, many applications were exempted from the embargo but were still unavailable in Iran because businesses still feared the repercussions of sanctions violations. Recognizing this, the State and Treasury Departments subsequently issued General License D in 2013, explicitly allowing the export of even paid-for personal communications hardware, software and services. The license also made it legal to export devices like mobile phones, satellite phones and computers to Iran. In 2014, this license was expanded and clarified to allow non-U.S. companies to re-export U.S.-made software and hardware from outside the U.S., and U.S. companies to export applicable foreign-made products from third countries.

But even with these welcome steps, there are still barriers in place. In 2016, nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted, yet services like Google Analytics, Google Developers and even Facebook Ads are not allowed in Iran because they are for commercial use. At a time when Iran is beginning to reintegrate into the global economy, and the U.S. and European governments are actually encouraging such reintegration, the embargo on commercial communications services does not add up.

President Obama himself has extolled the benefits of Iran’s economy opening and “young Iranians who dream of making their mark in the world” having an opportunity to do so. Lifting the remaining communications sanctions would be a step in the right direction that would particularly benefit young Iranian entrepreneurs. The U.S. should go further and lift restrictions against investment and mentoring for the professional development of Iranian tech entrepreneurs. The Iranian tech industry is steadily growing and Iranians will benefit greatly from access to U.S. commercial technologies. Hopefully, the U.S. government will work together to make these important changes a reality.

Posted By Emily Salwen

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Sign the Petition

 

7,348 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.

Sincerely,

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