Google to Offer Mapping and Other Software in Syria

Google is now allowed under U.S. export control rules to offer downloads in Syria of its mapping software Google Earth, photo sharing software Picasa, and its Chrome browser, it said Wednesday.

The company saw U.S. export restrictions similarly relaxed in January last year to allow it to offer downloads of these products in Iran. As a condition of its export licenses from the Treasury Department, Google had to block IP addresses associated with the Iranian government.

In February this year it said it also made Chrome extensions available for download in Iran.

"Free expression is a fundamental human right and a core value of our company--but sometimes there are limits to where we can make our products and services available," Google's export compliance programs manager, Neil Martin, said in a blog post on Wednesday. "U.S. export controls and sanctions programs, for example, prohibit us from offering certain software downloads in some countries".

Google for example saw an opportunity missed in Iran when the controls prevented Internet companies from offering software downloads in Iran during the protests after a disputed presidential election in 2009, when sharing of information over the Internet prevailed.

The relaxation of the export controls on the three Google products comes as Syrian pro-democracy protesters are increasingly under attack both on the ground and in cyberspace.

Starting with a complete block of the Internet in June last year, the Syrian government later started slowing down or suspending Internet service to prevent people from sending and receiving video footage of demonstrations, on critical protest days like Fridays or in localities where there are protests, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The government's cyber-army tracks dissidents on online social networks using techniques like phishing and man-in-the-middle methods, and web pages that support the demonstrations were flooded with messages supporting the regime, Reporters Without Borders said in March, while rating Syria as an "enemy of the Internet."

Twitter, Facebook, and Google's YouTube have played a significant role in many protest movements.

"As a U.S. company, we remain committed to full compliance with U.S. export controls and sanctions," Google said. "We remain equally committed to continue exploring how we can help more people around the globe use technology to communicate, find and create information," it added.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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