“Developers, starting today you can make your free apps available in Iran,” Google said in a Google+ post on Monday.
The move appears to be linked to the US decision in May to lift sanctions on the export of a variety of consumer communications devices and software and services including mobile phones to Iran.
Exports of the devices to Iran had been blocked since the 1990s, but ahead of presidential elections in June in the country, the US decided that its new licence would empower the Iranian people as the Iranian Government intensifies its efforts to stifle their access to information.
The export of equipment to the Iranian Government or to any individual or entity on a Specially Designated Nationals list, however, continued to be prohibited. Technology covered under the new licence were fee-based services, software and hardware required for personal communications over the internet, including instant messaging, email, chat, social networking, sharing of photos and movies, web browsing and blogging.
The products, software and services now authorised for export to Iran also include mobile phones, personal digital assistants, satellite phones, computers, consumer network equipment, anti-tracking software, anti-censorship tools, virtual private networks, proxy tools and voice-over-IP and video chat tools.
Google said on Monday that the new distribution option for developers is currently available only for free apps and not for priced apps or apps that use in-app billing. The new general licence authorises financial transactions related to the products it covers, said the New America Foundation in Washington DC. The move by Google will give Iranians access to a number of important tools which activists use to protect themselves from surveillance, but developers have to still opt to make their apps available in Iran, it said.
Google’s competitor Apple has also apparently removed Iran from its list of prohibited destinations for its products like the iPhone, iPad and Mac and associated software, citing the new general licence in May. The list now includes Cuba, Syria, North Korea and Sudan. On an Apple support community, a user wanted to know how to contact Apple to set up a store in the country.
Both companies did not immediately comment.
by John Ribeiro, IDG News Service