A recent Wall Street Journal article chronicles the Iran government’s attempt to block access to Google’s Gmail service and in turn introduce its own email service for its citizens. From the article:
A Google spokesman said in a statement, “We have heard from users in Iran that they are having 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. 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.”
I have never been a huge fan of Google; they are a prime example of a corporation starting out and gaining trust during its startup period, then betraying that trust after growing far enough beyond the “small company” phase. I have even put up a video, on Google-owned YouTube no less, which mentions “don’t be evil” becoming a “[beep]-damn joke.” (Said sort of in the heat of the moment, and yes, I even did my own beep-out.) And it was in a different context (a YouTube partner getting hung out to dry), but I still don’t think “don’t be evil” as a Google motto holds much credibility at all. (If you want to cut to the chase, it’s at 1:42 to 2:13.)
It’s not surprising at all that Google will work to restore Gmail access to the Iranian citizens; it’s in Google’s business interest to do so. I definitely would not expect Google to take it lying down.
One thing worse than Google having carte blanche to snoop on the emails of Iranian citizens, however, would be for the Iranian government to have that same carte blanche. It’s also troubling from an anti-censorship standpoint any time a government–at any level, whether national, state/province, or local–tries to stop or reroute the flow of information. If the Iranians want to use Gmail, they should have the choice. There are better choices out there.
It also has occured to me the Iranian government, having become used to its power thirst being quenched by control of “old media (radio, TV, and newspapers), is quite possibly hostile towards the entire concept of the Internet. Technology has marched on, and the era of state-controlled media is rapidly becoming obsolete. There are ways around even the Great Firewall of China. As said by John Gilmore in a 1993 TIME magazine interview, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”
So yes, I applaud the opposition of the Iranian government’s pathetic attempt at censorship, but I understand the reasons why Google is doing so as well. Yes, Iranians should be allowed to choose Gmail, however, they should also be aware of the alternatives and the rationale for choosing something else.