As tech giants enter Iran, Microsoft hangs back

A recent Microsoft feedback platform shows there’s huge demand for the company’s services in Iran. But despite sanctions lifting on technology products being provided to the country, the company is still not providing basic features to Iranians.

Users have voted over 30,000 times for the suggestion, “Please give the people of Iran to access the Microsoft Store. Thank you.” Meanwhile, Tom Warren at The Verge pointed out that a plea to include the Persian calendar was among the most-requested features in a Microsoft poll asking for feedback on the Windows 10 operating system.

Some are attributing this lack of support in Iran to US sanctions on the country, which generally prohibit trade.

But in May last year, the US relaxed some of those sanctions, allowing US companies to sell mobile phones, software, and other communication technology to Iranians. The exemptions only affected individuals, not the government, and Iranian customers couldn’t really buy the products themselves owing to other financial sanctions.

As a result, some companies opened up their products to Iranians. As well as selling its Mac and iPhone range to customers planning on taking the devices to Iran, Apple granted Iranians access to its App Store.

Google also joined in, and allowed Iranians to download apps from its Google Play store that were free. Then in February 2014, more amendments were made, meaning that Iranians could actually purchase communications products and services.


But Microsoft has not followed suit. Collin Anderson, a researcher who campaigned against the technology sanctions on Iran, told me in a phone interview that this could be because of fear that such a move may land the company in legal trouble.

“Companies are very legitimately fearful of running foul of the sanction regimes, which are incredibly complex, and very dangerous if you run afoul of them,” he said.

He added that Microsoft also doesn’t offer a legal, off-the-shelf version of Windows, or Skype credit in Iran, though in the past it has found a way to provide products to the Iranian market. “Microsoft took steps to make Hotmail available, and a number of other things, such as Windows Updates,” he said.

Overall, when it comes to introducing their services to Iran, “Microsoft has fallen behind its peers, even if its peers are being pretty conservative,” Anderson said.

He thinks that entering the Iranian market could pay off for Microsoft financially. “The market in Iran is huge. This isn’t some small country: this is nearly 80 million people,” he pointed out. In the future, Iran may “be a very advantageous place to go into” for businesses.

There’s certainly a big market for Windows in the country. Over 90 percent of computers use a version of Microsoft Windows, according to Stat Counter—though it’s likely given the circumstances that many of those are running pirated systems.

But this isn’t about money for Anderson and other campaigners. He feels that private companies are, in their own way, contributing to censorship in the country by not offering services that could help free the flow of information. “Now we have to push private companies,”  he said, and encourage them to “actually act and not be censors of the Iranian public in the same way that the government is.”

By Motherboard


The Iran Project is not responsible for the content of quoted articles.