Google today announced that Android developers can now make their free apps available in Iran, one of the few countries where app downloads through Google’s store were completely unavailable until now. Paid apps and apps that use in-app billing, Google notes, will still remain unavailable in Iran for the time being.
For developers, this move opens up an interesting new market, though given Iran’s tendency to shut down access to Google’s services, it remains to be seen how long these apps will remain available. Google and Iran, after all, have a pretty tumultuous relationship. Just this June, Google announced that it had uncovered an Iranian spy campaign that, ahead of Iran’s last election, targeted Iranian citizens through phishing emails.
YouTube also remains unavailable in Iran and the country has regularly blocked access to other Google services, including Search and Gmail (though Iranians, it seems, can get around most of these filters by using standard VPN software).
When those services are available in Iran, however, they do tend to be very popular. In 2012 when access to Gmail was cut off, Iranian legislator Hossein Garousi “threatened to summon Telecommunications Minister Reza Taqipour to parliament for questioning if it was not unblocked,” according to Reuters.
We have asked Google to clarify why it decided to change its policy now and will update this post once we hear back from them.