Google has announced it will offer its Google Earth mapping service, Picasa photo service, and Chrome web browser for download in Iran for the first time, following the Obama administration's decision in March to relax restrictions on exports of online services and software to Iran. Google will continue to block IP addresses associated with the Iranian government.

In explaining to The Guardian how Google products could benefit free expression, Google spokesman Scott Rubin mentioned the way Google Earth's satellite imagery was used in Sudan to highlight areas of unrest during elections. He also told The BBC that "in a country with a history of government surveillance it is useful having a browser [like Chrome] that can't easily be hacked."

What do others make of the development?

  • This Story Begins in 2009, explains Jessica Guynn at the LA Times. "The push to make online services available for download in Iran got underway after protests over the disputed presidential election in 2009 there drew attention to the reach and power of digital services such as Facebook and Twitter," she says, adding that these social networking sites-along with other services like Google-owned YouTube and Gmail--have since been blocked by the Iranian regime. Guynn continues, "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Internet freedom is a fundamental part of American foreign policy, with videos and blog posts fueling dissent in politically repressive countries."
  • Note What Google's Not Exporting, observes Jemima Kiss at The Guardian. Rubin, the Google spokesman, explains that Google Talk won't be made available in Iran because the company isn't confident it can prevent the government from monitoring chats and provide dissidents with the privacy and security they're seeking. Kiss notes that Picasa, Google Earth, and Chrome are not direct communication tools.
  • Google Has Consistently Challenged Iran, notes The BBC: "Google's chief executive Eric Schmidt was vocal in his condemnation of the Iranian government and its decision to impose media blackouts in reaction to the protests. At the time Google rolled out Farsi language tools to aid communication."
  • I Don't Buy Google's Lofty Rhetoric, states Kelly Fiveash at The Register, describing the move thus: "The Mountain View Chocolate Factory followed its commitment-to-sanctions message with more sugar-coating about 'choice', 'freedom' and 'power' for Iranians, the world, and--perhaps most importantly-- Google."