Google Chrome and Earth available in Iran

Woman demonstrating in Tehran, Iran The government clamped down on net access following the presidential election in June 2009

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Google Earth, the Chrome browser and photo service Picasa will be available for download in Iran for the first time, the search giant has announced.

It follows an easing on US export restrictions to the country last year.

One of the conditions of the licence is that none of the products can be downloaded by or on behalf of the Iranian government.

Google says it is hopeful the new tools will enable freer communication in the country.

"There are many activist layers on Google Earth. Anyone can create a layer to show exactly what is going on in Iran," said Google's head of public policy Scott Rubin.

Traffic drop

Having Chrome will also be beneficial, he thinks.

"In a country with a history of government surveillance it is useful having a browser that can't easily be hacked," he said.

However, there was "no guarantee" that the government will not block the services, he added.

"I couldn't predict what will happen but I certainly hope not. There is so much that is interesting on Google Earth that has nothing to do with politics," he said.

The US treasury department eased sanctions against Iran in March last year, as a way to increase the use of web services and support opposition groups.

It represented a softening of the line against Iran, which has has had US trade bans since 1987.

Google-owned YouTube was used during the Iranian protests that followed the presidential election in June 2009.

It offered eye-witness reports but was quickly blocked by the Iranian government, a ban that has never been lifted. Gmail also remains blocked.

Google's chief executive Eric Schmidt was vocal in his condemnation of the Iranian government and its decision to impose media blackouts in reaction to the protests.

At the time Google rolled out Farsi language tools to aid communication.

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