Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has been ardently defending the YouTube video that is being blamed for all of the Middle East unrest, but now that move is challenging Internet freedom in Iran, as the video had been blacked out in some Middle Eastern countries by YouTube so users cannot access it, but apparently it has been filtered out in Iran – and now the Iranian government is taking matters into its own hands.
Reports out of the Islamist state are that the Iranian government, in response to Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) and YouTube, is filtering out Google Search, YouTube, and Gmail from everyone in the country. While the government line is that this move is to protest the anti-Islam film that has been blamed for much of the unrest in the Middle East, there are others who say this move is more meant to promote an Iranian “national Internet” that was supposed to launch over the weekend.
A state-controlled Internet would dramatically impact the influence and reach of Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) in Iran, as the government has apparently been trying to establish its own web sites and search engine. Reports from several citizens in different Iranian cities have confirmed that Google Search and Gmail have been blocked from users, which of course can be problematic for Iranians who rely on Gmail accounts as their way to communicate through the Web. A Canada-based Iranian blogger posted, “Cutting off access to Google Search essentially pushes a significantly larger population towards looking for ways to be able to get around the filtering regime. A result of this process is not necessarily a ‘better’ or ‘more free’ Internet, but, nevertheless, the current course of action is not going to help the Iranian establishment either. They are pushing people towards a more vigilant approach to the Internet. They are telling people ‘go learn how to use a VPN’, and I foresee that being exactly what is going to happen.”
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) is getting involved, pushing a campaign through Iran to encourage users to push for a free Internet, which includes ensuring access to Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG). There is a possibility that this filtering may expand beyond Iran. Google stands for free speech, but will this affect the bottom line for the company and for investors, like hedge-fund manager Chase Coleman of Tiger Global Management LLC?