October 19, 2019
A judicial order to block Google Play in Iran, which would deny millions of Iranians access to the world’s largest app store for Android devices, has been issued but not yet implemented, according to investigations by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
Blocking the Google apps store will directly endanger the security of Iranian users of Android devices, as it will limit Iranian users to state-controlled app stores that offer applications that are accessible to state surveillance, malware and cyberattacks. A block on Google Play will also create significant obstacles for domestic app developers, who rely on Google Play Services to create and update their products.
The order, which CHRI learned of from an informed source who requested anonymity, was sent, with the understanding that it was going to be kept confidential, by deputy prosecutor general in charge of cyberspace, Javad Javidnia to 21 government and private entities on October 9, 2019.
According to information gathered by CHRI, the order was not due to be made public until the block was enforced.
Yet on October 15, following rumors circulating on social media weeks earlier, the Young Journalists Club (YJC), which is closely tied to Iran’s security establishment, reported that an “informed source” had confirmed the order’s validity.
Javidnia’s order states: “In accordance with Article 749 of the Islamic Penal Code in regards to computer crimes, and the decision taken at the 66th meeting of the Working Group for Determining Instances of Criminal Content (WGDICC), as well as relevant judicial orders, we request that you act on blocking Google Play on the Internet in the shortest time possible …”
Iranians on social media, especially those in the tech industry, have criticized the decision.
Amin Amirsharifi, the CEO of Iran’s largest app store, tweeted: “For the past eight years Cafe Bazaar has grown alongside Google Play … and been able to attract 40 million users. We do not support blocking our competitor.”
Alireza Shirazi, the head of the largest Iranian blogging portal, Blogfa, commented: “Mr. Javidnia, access to Google Play is a right and a necessity. This issue is that operating systems need to be updated (by downloading new versions from Google Play). It is also necessary to note that if you go to other app stores, you would have to replace the Android security system and seek permits to run programs from unknown sources.”
If implemented, the block will significantly endanger Iranian users’ right to privacy and internet security.
On August 31, 2019, Javidnia also issued an order to Internet hosting companies in Iran to cease providing services to filtered websites based in the country.
“Based on Article 751 of the Islamic Penal Code regarding internet crimes, companies providing hosting services are required to abstain from offering any kind of service to websites that have been filtered in the country,” said the order issued by the deputy prosecutor general.
The authorities in Iran have increasingly sought to control internet use in Iran and substitute foreign applications and services with domestic ones which the state has control and access capabilities. In this way, the state’s repressive censorship and surveillance is facilitated and enhanced.