US sanctions on Iran and The biggest tech embargo of the 21st century that no one is talking about
There are many things that I want to say -as an Iranian writer / photographer- to the outside world. One of them is about what individual people and individual companies -especially in the tech world- are doing in the face of US sanctions imposed on Iran and its people.
What you’re gonna read is mostly based on my personal experience in these last few years.
Apple and its die-hard fans in Iran
I honestly don’t know why this many people living in Iran have Apple products. I just don’t get it!
Let me explain a bit. Iran’s smartphone market is approximately worth 6 billion dollars and various reports say that Apple has about 10 percent of this market. (some reports say 9 and some 11) That means there are more than 850,000 iphones in Iran. About 200,000 are imported legally and the rest is smuggled in. and this is just the number for iphones. God knows how many mac computers and ipads and Apple watches are here.
And why is this weird to me!? Glad you asked! Because Apple has shown time and again that it doesn’t respect Iranian users. First of all, you need an Apple ID to use Apple products. And if you live in Iran, you can’t officially have an Apple ID. Iran isn’t in the list of countries that you must choose from, when you first turn on your device. And so it continues that your address for an Apple ID can’t be in Iran either. Of course, people find a way because they’re apparently in love with Apple.
Other than this, I’ve lost count of the times that Apple has removed Iranian apps from its store citing the sanctions as the reason. And really to use Apple is to use VPNs for Iranian users.
All of this seems disrespectful to me. And when a brand disrespects you, why would buy its products? This is why I don’t get it!
Of course Apple has always been like this: A company that only thinks about profits. Products are of secondary importance. And the users comfort comes last!
Amazon, EBay and more
There isn’t really much to say here. If you’re in Iran, you can’t buy from amazon or other major online shopping services like E-Bay or even Etsy. It’s just not possible. You can’t sell your products on these sites either.
Facebook will be Facebook (& Instagram?)
It was once the most popular social media in Iran but after it got banned by the government, users left. Of course Facebook now owns Instagram. And currently, Instagram is the most popular social app in Iran. So here’s what we deal with when using Instagram and Facebook:
- For a long period of time, Iranian phone numbers couldn’t be registered on Facebook and Instagram. (Now it works, most of the time!)
- We can’t buy ads or promote our content directly (to be fair, this has a lot to do with the Banking sanctions too) but that doesn’t stop them from showing us ads.
There are other parts of Facebook closed off to Iranians as well. So here we deal with a two-sided restriction. Ban from inside and sanction from outside.
Google! You too?
This is where it really really hurts! Just like Facebook, there are Google products which are banned in Iran by the government. Youtube is banned as well. But for a time, simplest products like Google Keep were closed to Iranian users. And it looks like we’re going back to that time. We can’t charge our Google play store accounts and this creates a kind of ripple effect, restricting our access to so many other products.
We can’t use Google Ads either. (although people find their ways!) Because .ir domains (like my own website) can’t even register on Adwords. Adsense is essentially closed off as well. And this creates problems if I want to monetize my content on my blog or Youtube channel.
In case you were wondering, other simple products like Google’s Pagespeed Insights are also closed-off to Iranian users! And why do I say this hurts more? Because first of all, Google has its hand in everything and we should expect a new surprise in shape of a closed-off account or restricted access to a service like every other week!
For example, a few months back, I woke up to a non-existent analytics account. It was simply gone, without any warning or any way to have access to my old data. (I have actually opened up a new account just a few weeks back and I’m hoping to stay alive this time!)
Second, people expect these kind of stuff from Apple and Facebook. But I’ve always thought that Google is different. Maybe because of its founders and their personal views on the internet. There is also the stated company values and mission that don’t give off any restricting kind of vibe. I don’t really know! All I want is to have my Google back people!
With the new set of us sanctions hitting Iran in the Trump administration, other companies are joining the fun. Most recent is OneSignal. I personally used their service to send web notifications. Like many other services, we woke up one day to see our access cut off. I had lost my blog subscribers without any way to get them all back!
Everyday it’s a new site. You open a site that you have used for months -maybe even years- and see a warning page with a “restricted” or “prohibited” message.
What’s my point!?
I know there are legal stuff and every business should look out for their own interest. All I’m asking is a little more consideration. We are ordinary people. Just like you. We are trying to build our audience, our small business. We’re just trying to get by.
And what these companies do, hurts us in a very real and very personal way. And no matter how hard we look, we can’t find a reason for this. We are being punished when we haven’t done anything wrong.
I mean really!? Trump fears Iran will have nuclear bombs and as a result I lose all my subscribers and data!? How is this making sense to you?
You may say that we need to talk to our own government about these issues. And believe me, we are. But at some point, we need to break this cycle. Some things on the internet should be free of politics. Don’t you agree?
Let me know what you think. Whether you’re from Iran or not, I think if you use the internet, you should have an opinion about this.
February 2019 Update: Coursera doesn’t give certifications to Iranian people, citing the sanctions as the reason. This has been happening for a few months now.