More Iranians Forced to Rely on Unsafe Online Hosting After Amazon

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CHRI: Amazon has become the latest major American technology company to block Iranians from accessing its products and services due to U.S. government sanctions that prohibit companies from providing products or services to people based in Iran.

Iranian developers who are now banned from using Amazon Web Service (AWS), which offers the worlds most extensive cloud computing platforms, will feel the greatest impact, as well as those who use those developers’ websites, services and products including virtual private networks (VPNs) that enable users to circumvent online censorship.

The developers are now forced to host their websites and apps on Iran-based cloud servers, leaving user data open to privacy violations by government agencies.

The Microsoft-owned web code repository service Github is also no longer accessible to developers in Iran due to sanctions.

On August 6, 2019, the American National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked a trove of secret documents in 2013, tweeted that tech giants are cutting of Iranians’ access to the outside world to please the U.S. government.

“…Amazon runs basically half the internet on their cloud platform. Now they’re cutting off the lifeline of Iran’s liberal opposition in a misguided attempt to please—far beyond what the law requires—one of Amazon’s biggest customers: the US Government.”

Individuals, governments and companies including high-tech and multi-national corporations host their websites and online services on Amazon’s cloud servers.

Due to the fact that the internet in Iran is severely censored, and private user activity monitored by the government, developers in the country were using Amazon’s servers to create open-source personal virtual private networks (VPNs) called Outline.

Iranians are now also blocked from using some websites that are hosted on Amazon.

On June 10, 2019, Ashkan Nourizadeh, a computer programmer in Iran, tweeted a screenshot of an email he received from the book review social network website Goodreads, adding: “Wow my Goodreads account has been closed. Looks like these guys [Amazon] are also putting us in our place.”

Various companies have suddenly blocked Iranians from accessing their products and services since sanctions were re-imposed on Iran by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump in November 2018, including the major American cloud infrastructure provider Digital Ocean, which blocked access in January 2019.

Iranian officials have publicly acknowledged the fact that citizens prefer to use foreign cloud services due to state policies.

“Company executives have told me in private that they prefer to have their servers managed abroad because if they are filtered [by the Iranian government], they won’t lose their foreign customers,” said Communications and Information Technology Minister Mahmoud Vaezi at a technology conference in Tehran in March 2016.

That is no longer an option for Iranians, at least not through AWS.

Amazon and Github’s move will result in more Iranians being forced to use state digital services and infrastructure, including the National Information Network (NIN), which enables the government to more effectively control Iranians’ access to the internet and monitor online communications and activities.