Google’s Eye on the Regime

The regime claimed yesterday that 50 million supporters (in a country of 70 million!) came out to commemorate the thirty-first anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. Of course, even a 1 million figure would have been suspect. For this reason, Google teamed up with its partners at GeoEye in advance of the highly-anticipated day to provide satellite imagery of Tehran, available here. The area photographed is of Azadi Road leading into Azadi Sqaure, where Ahmadinejad spoke on 22 Bahman, and the images were taken about 10 minutes into his speech.

There obviously are not one million people surrounding the area, let alone 50 million. What is interesting, however, is that throngs of people are visible (using the embed on Google’s blog) far along down Azadi Road, which goes east from the square.

Are these pro-regime or Green protesters? It is not clear. But several other things are suspect. The truth is that the propaganda these types of events produce are mostly for foreign consumption. In fact, 22 Bahman marked the first time in months that, as Jason Rezaian writes from Tehran, “several members of the foreign press were allowed to cover a public event in Tehran.” Why, then, would the regime not want as many bodies to be around the stage and in its photo-op as possible?

When comparing Google’s satellite imagery with the marching routes circulated in the days leading up to 22 Bahman, an interesting overlap reveals itself. Azadi Road was also the main announced route for Greens to get to Azadi Square, where some hoped to disrupt Ahmadinejad’s speech. Gooya also drives home just how many buses were unloaded for the occasion, which matches up with YouTube footage posted earlier.

This is not the first time Google has provoked the regime’s ire. Last week, the Islamic Republic announced that it was going to restrict Gmail, Google’s popular e-mail service, and institute an e-mail service of its own in the coming months. Google also released a beta version of its Persian Translate feature ahead of schedule after there was a sudden demand for Farsi translation when protests broke out in June.

(c) Masoud Shafaee |

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