Yahoo alleged to have Iran names of 200,000 bloggers during protests

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This post has been updated. A new report has claimed that Yahoo had collaborated with the Iranian regime during the election protests that happened in the country in June, passing emails and personal information (i.e. names) of some 200,000 users living in the country.

The report, from the Iranian Students Solidarity blog (in Farsi) and later repeated on ZDNet by Richard Koman, mentions that Yahoo sent a representative in order to lift the blocks during the protests. While it was not the only website blocked or severely limited, like Google and social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, none of the aforementioned sites had contacted the government.

As part of the agreement, Yahoo was asked to provide 200,000 email addresses and names of Iranians using its mail and were writing blogs, though it has not been mentioned if it was targeted at its Yahoo! 360 blog service or external services like WordPress and Blogspot. The Iranian government asked for all of the emails of all Iranians on Yahoo, but relented after Yahoo said that it would be a time-consuming process as there were more than 20 million accounts.

Here’s an excerpt of what they wrote (translated in English, via ZDNet):

On 27th of Shahrivar (Day of Qods) when Iranians demonstrated again on the streets, the Iranian authorities in addition to blocking many internet sites, all over Iran, blocked or severely limited access to Yahoo and Google. Google did not react and its problem was resolved with 48 hours, but Yahoo sent a representative to Iran’s telecommunications ministry, to resolve the issue.

During the meeting with Iranian Internet authorities and telecommunications authorities, Yahoo representatives were asked to provide Iranian authorities with the names (data) on all Iranian Internet account holders in exchange for removing the block/filter on the Yahoo website.

The Yahoo representative subsequently expressed that currently there were more than 20 million email accounts and providing such a list will be a very time-consuming process. To which the IRGC (Islamic Republic Guardian Council) replied by asking the representative to provide email accounts of those individuals who have Yahoo accounts and are publishing blogs.

Apparently this made Yahoo’s task a bit easier and the Yahoo representative agreed to provide such a list within a matter of hours. Upon the receipt of such a list, which included approximately 200,000 emails, by the Iranian authorities, the regime immediately unblocked access to the Yahoo.com website. The list went back as far as five years and included active and inactive accounts and blogs.

Yahoo Iran is not actually managed by the corporation in the US, but by Yahoo Corporation in Malaysia, according to the Iranian Students Solidarity blog. Malaysia, like Iran, is a predominantly Muslim country. Yahoo has said that it does not have any operations in Malaysia.

However, it should be noted that this may not actually be true. As noted by SiliconANGLE, it does not pass the “Smell Test”, where if it sounds “far too juicy to pass up, it’s generally too good to be true.” and that selecting 200,000 users out of a possible 20 million is a little dubious, and while it is not entirely impossible, it is unlikely.

UPDATE: ZDNet has now retracted the story, and has since apologised to Yahoo for not having their input for the story. In a separate blog posting, Yahoo wrote:

The allegations in the story are false. Neither Yahoo! nor any Yahoo! representative has met with or communicated with Iranian officials regarding the matters referenced in the article, and Yahoo! has not disclosed user data to the Iranian government. The ZDnet article makes other inaccurate assertions. We don’t have a Yahoo! Iran website, as the article suggests. We don’t have employees in Iran either. And while we have a website targeted at users in Malaysia, we don’t have operations or officials there, also wrongly asserted in the article.

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