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The Myth of the Techno-Utopia: The Digital Dictatorship

February 21, 2010

It’s fashionable to hold up the Internet as the road to democracy and liberty in countries like Iran, but it can also be a very effective tool for quashing freedom. Evgeny Morozov on the myth of the techno-utopia.

[CovJump3]An internet cafe in Tehran.

A storm of protest hit Google last week over Buzz, its new social networking service, because of user concerns about the inadvertent exposure of their data. Internet users in Iran, however, were spared such trouble. It’s not because Google took extra care in protecting their identities—they didn’t—but because the Iranian authorities decided to ban Gmail, Google’s popular email service, and replace it with a national email system that would be run by the government.

Such paradoxes abound in the Islamic Republic’s complex relationship with the Internet. As the Iranian police were cracking down on anti-government protesters by posting their photos online and soliciting tips from the public about their identities, a technology company linked to the government was launching the first online supermarket in the country. Only a few days later, Iran’s state-controlled telecommunications company confirmed it had struck an important deal with its peers in Azerbaijan and Russia, boosting the country’s communications capacity and lessening its dependence on Internet cables that pass through the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

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