Taking advantage of a recent easing in U.S. sanctions on the export of technology to Iran, yesterday Google announced that it would make its Play Store available to Iranian users. Developers can opt in to making their products and services available in Iran by changing their application settings.
Until as recently as May 2013, when General License D was released, the U.S. government prohibited companies from exporting physical hardware and commercial software or services to Iran, limiting the availability of commonplace items such as laptops, cell phones, modems and anti-censorship software for Iranians. Google’s announcement parallels more quiet movements by Apple last week to remove Iran from its list of destinations that partners are prohibited from selling equipment to.
As Access noted when it was released, the new General License aims to make personal communications technologies more accessible to Iranian users. Iran’s government maintains an extensive censorship and surveillance regime that puts many obstacles between users and the open internet. Having access to official app stores like Google Play and Apple’s App Store will also increase digital security for users. Official app stores such as Google Play have built-in security features that third-party app stores lack, such as “Bouncer” which scans submitted apps for malware. When governments block access to the official stores, users have to rely on third-party stores that may have fewer measures in place to stop malware from being maliciously incorporated into applications.
While only free apps will be available in Iran’s Play Store for now, Access applauds Google for taking this important first step in extending its services. Developers should check their settings now to ensure Iranians are able to download their applications. We hope that Google continues to expand access to its full suite of services to Iranians such as enabling paid apps — the General License allows for “fee-based services” — and making other services like Google Code available. Access hopes that Facebook, Yahoo!, GoDaddy, McAfee, and other companies take note of this announcement and follow suit in expanding access to their products and services to the Iranian public.