Did you know that U.S. sanctions also applies to software downloads? Generally, a country uses economic sanctions to prevent food and much needed supplies from reaching a rival country to coerce them into cooperation. The sanctions can also apply to software downloads as in the case of the president of Syria having to use a proxy to gain access to iTunes.
Speaking of Syria, some of those software sanctions have been lifted. Google announced today that they are now able to offer Google Earth, Picasa and Chrome to the residents of Syria. I don't know how much use they will have for it since they're in the middle of a war.
Still, it's nice to see that those not involved with the conflict can now gain access to what is arguably the world's most popular Web browser. The addition of Google Earth could also probably help those who want to avoid the regions that are currently embroiled in conflict. I wonder if we're going to see any pictures of the country on Picasa?
It would appear that Google has to fight the U.S. export controls to get this software into the hands of the people in these countries. As has been proven in many uprisings around the Middle East, the use of technology to communicate has been key in the numerous successes that we've seen. Google shares this sentiment by saying that they have to walk a thin line between complying with U.S. sanctions and offering people the tools they need to "communicate, find and create information."
While we may have our own gripes with Google and their practices here in the U.S. over privacy and other issues, I think it's only fair to give them this one. There doesn't appear to be any ulterior motive except getting technology into the hands of people who actually need it. While we're just sharing pictures of cats, access to technology is a matter of life and death in a country like Syria.
I don't want this to devolve into one of those, "Think of the starving children in Africa" stories, but Google did good today. We need more people lobbying for the delivery of essential information technology to those fighting for independence the world over. Besides, it should help level the playing field since the government has been using technology against activists.