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Google makes downloads of Google Earth, Picasa and Chrome available in Iran

January 18, 2011 |  9:00 pm

With restrictions lifted on exporting Internet services and software to Iran, Google will begin offering mapping program Google Earth, photo management service Picasa and Web browser Chrome for download there starting Wednesday.

"Our products are specifically designed to help people create, communicate, share opinions and find information. And we believe that more available products means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for individuals in Iran and across the globe," Neil Martin, export compliance programs manager for Google, said in a blog post.

The Obama administration began permitting technology companies to export online services such as instant messaging and photo sharing to Iran in March. 

At the time, a senior Google executive applauded the decision to relax restrictions. Technology companies had not offered those services because of strict export restrictions.

Bob Boorstin, Google's director of policy communications, told human-rights activists: "We are hopeful this will help people like yourselves in this room and activists all over the world take a small step down what is certainly a long road ahead."

A Google spokeswoman said, "We worked to get these products available to the people of Iran in compliance with U.S. export controls as quickly as possible."

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. 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.

Iran blocks access to social networking and other sites for most Iranians. Since the election, the government has condemned Facebook and Twitter, saying Iran's enemies use them in an effort to topple the regime.

Products still unavailable in Iran include AdSense, AdWords and Checkout.

Google still restricts downloads in Cuba, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, the Google spokeswoman said.

"This policy may change in the future as a result of the new Commerce Department regulation on publicly available software. For now, however, Google downloads are not available in those countries," she said.

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-- Jessica Guynn

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