Google, Apple remove some restrictions on technology to Iran

The move follows a U.S. decision to lift sanctions on some personal communications technology

Google has told Android developers that they can start offering free apps in Iran, while Apple has removed Iran from among the countries to which sales of its products are prohibited.

"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 U.S 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 the June in the country, the U.S. decided that its new license 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 license 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 authorized 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 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 license authorizes financial transactions related to the products it covers, said the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. 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 license 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.

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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