How Google’s Outline VPN is helping the fight for freedom in Iran

Iran protests

Yasmin Green left Iran at the age of just three and now having worked in London, she is in New York, heading up a research team at Google which is working on aiding oppressed populations as well as fending off attacks on more open societies.

As you might expect, much of her focus is on Iran, especially in light of the recent protests against the theocratic dictatorship which controls the country.

There are various steps they are taking, but one of particular interest is a VPN. Called Outline, it is a free service that can be downloaded as an app, used online, and which is also distributed by third parties such as nthLink.

Iranian online freedoms

At a time when the Iranian regime is cracking down hard on internet freedoms, it will come as little surprise to learn that Outline is proving popular in Iran.

According to the Washington Post, monthly users of Outline in Iran have grown tenfold in the past two months. It is believed to have been used on 2.4 million unique devices in Iran in the month of September alone.

It is part of the role of Green and her team to keep Outline operational in Iran.

For those who might be concerned that a VPN run by Google is no more trustworthy than one run by the Iranian regime themselves, Outline is a little different.

It is completely open source meaning that all the coding it is built on can be, and is, scrutinised by developers around the world. In theory, this means that there are no secret gateways or backdoors. What you see is what you get.

For Green, this project has been a labour of love. She first began working with Google as part of the Google Ideas department, inspired by the work that had been on a previous set of Iranian protests back in 2009.

The department, now rebranded as Jigsaw, has received increased funding and has developed a number of different tools including Intra, an Android app for reaching blocked websites.

But it is now, that tools like Outline are really coming into their own. However, it is far from perfect.

Outline’s pitfalls

As the Washington Post article confirms, Outline is being detected and blocked by the Iranian Government in some cases, especially when users are connected to cloud servers such as Digital Ocean.

Outline has convened a team to try and address this issue but the familiar analogy of a game of cat and mouse has been used and in this case, the cat seems to have slightly the upper hand.

The good news is that the Iranian people are already well-used to online censorship and have adapted their internet habits accordingly.

The Washington Post cites sources which say a majority of Iranians already use VPNs to conceal which sites they are visiting on the web.

That’s as it should be. Premium VPNs offer Iranians everything they need to bypass the censorship of their oppressive government and access the internet freely. Little wonder so many Iranian’s are already using them.

Outline is a free VPN and therefore something that we wouldn’t normally recommend here at VPNCompare.

Free VPNs tend to be insecure and many routinely harvest and sell user data rather than keeping it private. Some even come bundled together with malware and spyware while links to authoritarian regimes, including Iran, have been found before.

These free VPNs should be avoided, especially in countries like Iran where the consequences of being caught using a VPN can be severe.

But Outline is different. While Google’s record on user privacy isn’t exactly ideal, and we would not recommend Outline for users in developed countries like the USA and the UK, it is a safe VPN option for people in countries like Iran, especially if the cost of a premium VPN, such as those highly recommend like ExpressVPN is beyond you.

At this critical moment in Iran’s history, where the prospect of removing the current regime and restoring freedom to the people is as close as it has been in decades, Outline is one of many providers playing a crucial role.

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 7 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

Comments

  1. احمد احمدی

    لطفاً کمک کنید یک اکسپرس وی پی ان من در کردستان ایران زندگی میکنم تنها فیلترشکن که وصل میشود همین اکسپرس هست البته اونم در ساعاتی از روز فقط با وای فا ممنونم

  2. DjangoChained

    Not working in Iran!

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