Search Engines, Poverty, and Opportunity: Google Blocking Chrome Downloads in Syria and Iran

Simon Owens, from Bloggasm, sent me a note yesterday pointing out a post at MediaShift – Google Blocks Chrome Browser Use in Syria, Iran.

When I received his message, I had been working upon a post for Blog Action Day 2008, and had started compiling resources that nonprofits working on issues involving poverty might find useful. But the idea of Google limiting access to their Chrome browser had me thinking about how important it is to provide access to information and to tools to access that information (pdf) to people around the world.

Google does offer a number of programs that can help non profit organizations, such as

Google Grants,
YouTube Nonprofit Program
Google checkout for Nonprofits
Google Earth Outreach

According to the MediaShift article, Google is following U.S export controls and economic sanctions in not allowing the download of Google Chrome in Cuba, Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Sudan. It’s difficult to see the harm in enabling people from these countries installing a browser that is free to the rest of the world.

I remember in the late 90s that some version of browsers came with licenses limiting their download to people in the United States because they contained certain levels of encryption, which the US government classified as weapons munitions. We don’t know why Google isn’t allowing for the download in the countries listed above. Is it an issue involving encryption? Is there some other reason?

Poverty has many causes, and shows many symptoms. Poverty is a lack of opportunity and education, an inability to receive fair treatment and a chance to grow and develop, a struggle to find food and clothing and shelter and medical care.

Access to information can make a positive difference for those who face poverty, and for those organizations that fight poverty, in many places around the world. I found myself pausing and wondering why Google would impose a limit on a tool that they offer that can allow people to access that information.

The focus of Blog Action Day 2008 is on starting a conversation about Poverty, and one issue that appears to be worth discussing is the impact of economic sanctions on countries that would limit the access of people to things like a free web browser. Or something like a vaccine for Bird Flu. Maybe we need to think more about how we can use economic sanctions more wisely to influence political change.


Author: Bill Slawski

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