Google Moves to Improve Iran Information Access

Google released a tool that translates Internet blogs, news articles and text messages from English to Persian, and vice-versa, in a move the firm said will “improve access to information” amid the turmoil and media restrictions following Iran’s disputed election.

The move is the latest example of the growing role that consumer Internet technology is playing in the wake of Iran’s most serious political unrest since the Islamic revolution 30 years ago.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced in a blog post on Friday that Persian, or Farsi, as Iran’s most commonly spoken language is sometimes called, is now the 42nd language available in its online translation service.

The service automatically translates text from Web sites, blogs and e-mail messages from English to Persian, and from Persian to English.

Google Principal Scientist Franz Och, who heads Google’s translation group, said in an interview with Reuters that given the recent events in Iran it was a “natural idea” to help people get access to information and to communicate.

“This tool will improve access to information for people inside and outside”, Iran, said Och.

Google was already working internally on adding Persian to Google Translate, but the team accelerated the product roll-out in light of the current situation.

He declined to specify when Google began working on the Persian version of the translation tool.

Iran, the world’s fifth biggest oil exporter, has been rocked by violent protests after official results of last week’s presidential election declared a landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Supporters of opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi contend the election was rigged.

With foreign journalists barred from leaving their offices to cover the street demonstrations, Internet technology like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have become vital tools for keeping people informed inside and outside of Iran.

Supporters of Mousavi have organized rallies by posting messages on microblogging service Twitter, and videos alleging to show on-the-ground scenes of violence and protests in Iran have found their way to video web site YouTube despite the Iranian government’s efforts to quash such online activity.

Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department contacted microblogging service Twitter and urged the company to delay a planned upgrade that would have cut daytime service to Iranians.

The State Department stressed to Twitter officials the service’s importance as a communication tool, a State Department official said.

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