One year after Yahoo! decided to exclude Iran from the list of countries that can access some of its services, the company has resumed providing access to Iranian users to open accounts and use the company’s Yahoo Messenger services.
Starting in September 2013, Yahoo changed sign-up requirements for new users, asking for a telephone number for all new accounts. Telephone prefixes for several countries under economic sanctions by the US, including Iran, were eliminated from the list. As a result, new Iranian users were unable to sign up for email services and the two-step ID confirmation services, which increase user security.
Yahoo!’s decision to include Iran’s name on the list of countries with access to the services came as a result of advocacy by human rights organizations and organizations active in the area of Internet freedom. Users inside Iran are now allowed to sign up for Yahoo’s email services, as well as downloading its Messenger software, something that was not possible for the past year.
Along with eight other organizations, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran was a signatory to a letter to Yahoo!’s CEO Marissa Mayer, in which the organizations objected to the company’s decision to keep Iranian users from using their services, and demanded that Iran’s name be added to the list again.
Ali Akbar Mousavi, former Deputy Chair of the Iranian Parliament’s Telecommunications Committee, and a communications technology researcher who had a prominent presence in the interactions with Yahoo! to revoke the restrictions on Iranian users, welcomed Yahoo!’s move. “We will wait for the announcements about Yahoo!’s next two actions to enable financial transactions for Iranian users to shop through their website, as well as increasing the security level of Yahoo! Messenger for all users,” said Mousavi Khoeini. The economic sanctions against Iran stipulate that any financial transactions with Iranian citizens inside Iran must be carried out based on authorization from the Treasury Department. Considering the Treasury Department revoked sanctions related to personal financial transactions to purchase Internet equipment and services in February 2014, Yahoo! should have no concerns regarding the provision of such services.
In addition to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the letter addressed to Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was signed by Human Rights Watch, Electronic Frontiers Foundation, Access, Open Technology Institute, New America Foundation, National Iranian American Council, Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), ASL 19, and United for Iran.
Reza Ghazinouri, Program Director at United for Iran, told the Campaign, “By changing its policies and returning the capability to create new email accounts for Iranian people, Yahoo! showed the social responsibility expected of companies. We hope to be able to support the rights and security of Iranians through engagement with Yahoo! and other technology companies in the future.”
Collin Anderson, a researcher with the University of Pennsylvania and Measurement Lab, told the Campaign, “The removal of restrictions by Yahoo! demonstrates that making services available to the Iranian public is both legally permissible and highly welcomed by all. In Iran, as with the United States, the Internet is a core facilitator of education, cultural outreach and personal communication, a fact acknowledged by the legal authorizations for technology issued by United States government this February. American companies bear a moral responsibility to continue to open up access to their services, while maintaining vigilance over privacy and security challenges posed in such environments.”
Brett Salomon, Executive Director of Access, told the Campaign, “We are very pleased that Yahoo changed its policy, which will help a new generation of Iranian Internet users open an account, get online, and connect with the world.”