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

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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 many 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 to install a browser that is free to the rest of the world.

I remember in the late 90s that some versions 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.

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8 thoughts on “Search Engines, Poverty, and Opportunity: Google Blocking Chrome Downloads in Syria and Iran”

  1. Hi Peoplefinder,

    I’m hoping that we might hear more from Google on the export limitations behind Google Chrome, but I don’t know if we will.

    I’m wondering what other kinds of technology are limited based upon economic sanctions, like vaccines in my last link in the post.

  2. It would be interesting to see just what exactly is the rationale behind this.

    If it isn’t the encryption issue, I would like to know what it is. It seems odd that the people in these nations are allowed access to “western” search engines, but not a free web browser download.

    Hopefully, there is some sensible reason for this.

    Although, I doubt that a free web browser is a primary concern for most of the people in these countries, considering that the other problems that they face are much more serious.

  3. silly, and very political. but it’s not google’s fault, they’re just doing it to avoid stiff criminal and civil penalties. blame the us government and not google.

  4. Hi Chi,

    I’m not blaming Google for blocking the browser, but I’d really like to see the reason behind blocking the software in those countries made public.

    My major concern here is that technology that doesn’t seem to cause harm to release to other countries, like a free browser, or technology that could really help other countries, like vaccines, are being stopped by what appear to be economic sanctions.

  5. I think it’s more on the map features of google chrome, maybe they don’t want it available for Iraqi users due to the threatening situation or maybe they are utilized by somebody else that time that it may be part of a preventive measure to disable chrome access by that time.

  6. They blocked google search today in syria and all the other services, what the f****** mistake we’ve done, us the civilians

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