May 2, 2014, Washington, D.C. – The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), along with a coalition of other organizations, contacted Yahoo! regarding changes that would make access to its services more difficult for those living in Iran. Currently, Yahoo! is the most popular email service inside Iran, with 63 percent of online users relying on it, making the limited access especially significant.
In September 2013, Yahoo! changed its registration process, requiring new users to provide a phone number for their accounts. However, area codes that belong to countries sanctioned by the United States have been omitted from the drop down menu, preventing people inside Iran from setting up new accounts. In addition, those inside Iran have been unable to download the Yahoo! Messenger desktop client, which remains popular inside the country because of its better performance.
The coalition of organizations noted in their letter that this limited access makes little sense given that the release of General License D in May 2013 increased protection of online expression in Iran by expanding authorized export of information technology to include commercial services. In particular, it allowed for the transfer of services and software which are “incident to the exchange of personal communications over the Internet, such as instant messaging, chat and email, social networking, sharing of photos and movies, web browsing, and blogging.”
Moreover, the Treasury Department specifically mentioned Yahoo! Messenger as software that fell within the scope of the authorizations on personal communications in its “Interpretative Guidance on Internet Freedom in Iran” released on the Persian New Year in 2012.
The organizations recommended steps to restore access for those in Iran, such as either supporting Iranian phone numbers or providing alternative processes for backup access to locked out accounts. “Without these changes, Yahoo! has effectively imposed a ban on new registrations for users in sanctioned countries where the governments themselves attempt to block access to information,” states the letter.
Currently, users inside Iran do not face these restrictions with any of Yahoo!’s major competitors, such as Google or Microsoft.
Click here to read the full letter.