While talk of war between Israel and Iran grows louder, Google may soon have its own cyber war, of sorts, with the Muslim nation.
Iran has restricted citizen access to Gmail and Google search. The censorship comes amid growing protests across the Muslim world after an anti-Islamic film posted on Google's YouTube site sparked outrage and even killings.
"Google and Gmail will be filtered nationwide, and will remain filtered until further notice," said an adviser to Iran's public prosecutor's office Abdul Samad Khoramabadi, according to the BBC.
A Private Internet
Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence, said he was not surprised by the move.
"This is consistent with Iran's announced attempts to build its own 'Internet,' " Sterling told us. "It's an effort to limit or block access to information and communications as part of a broader attempt to maintain government control over the population."
Reuters reports that Iran has been talking about creating an Internet system that would largely isolate its citizens from the rest of the online world. And Iran's deputy communications and technology minister, Ali Hakim-Javadi, was quoted by the Mehr News Agency as saying that "In recent days, all governmental agencies and offices...have been connected to the national information network ." Reuters is also reporting that Iranian media expects the domestic Internet to be deployed by March 2013.
Iran's Propaganda Tool
Google has faced censorship in the past, both in Iran and China. Iran restricted access to Google search and Gmail in February before the parliamentary elections in March. In 2010, Google refused to censor results on Google.cn and started redirecting traffic instead to Google.com.hk. There, Google offered uncensored search in simplified Chinese via its Hong Kong servers.
Mahmood Tajali Mehr, an Iranian telecommunications consultant living in Germany, told BBC this is just a propaganda tool to demonstrate that Iran is doing something against the U.S., but it is unlikely to last longer than a few days.
"The current trouble with the anti-Islamic film is helping the government with this propaganda," he said. "The state is saying that the people are asking to block these services because of the film, but there haven't been such protests as in Pakistan and elsewhere, only small organized protests, so my personal feeling is that it has nothing to do with the film. Especially keeping in mind that YouTube has been blocked for some time already."
Despite all the hubbub in the news, Google's transparency report -- a tool that provides information about traffic to Google's services around the world -- does not show any indication of a blockage in Iran. YouTube, however, was partially inaccessible in Bangladesh and inaccessible in Pakistan last week.