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Google confirms sharp drop in Gmail usage in Iran

February 10, 2010 |  6:17 pm

Google has confirmed that usage of its Gmail system has dropped significantly in Iran following a report that the country had shut off access to the popular e-mail service.

Iran announced a permanent shuttering of Gmail along with an announcement of a national e-mail system for its citizens, according to the Wall Street Journal, which said the move had been portrayed as a way for the government to "boost local development of Internet technology and to build trust between people and the government.”

In a statement, Google said it had received reports from users in Iran who'd had trouble accessing Gmail.

"We can confirm a sharp drop in traffic and we have looked at our own networks and found that they are working properly," the company said. "Whenever we encounter blocks in our services we try to resolve them as quickly as possibly because we strongly believe that people everywhere should have the ability to communicate freely online. Sadly, sometimes it is not within our control."

Iranian authorities have been less than enthusiastic about online communications tools, saying they were used by the West in a "soft war" against Iran.  Those authorities singled out services like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as co-conspirators.

In protests last year after a disputed Iranian election, tech-savvy activists pressed against a government-initiated media blackout by flooding the Internet with blog posts, videos and short messages relaying activities inside the country. 

Google's problems with restrictive governments in other countries are mounting as well.  The company is still locked in negotiations with China after it said hackers in the Asian nation had infiltrated its corporate servers last year.  Google said it would respond by removing censorship controls on its search engine there, but has not yet done so.

-- David Sarno

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