Google’s announcement that it’s killing off Google Reader, the company’s beloved, if not wildly popular, tool for consuming RSS feeds, was met with outrage from journalists and other, largely American nerds who rely on it to efficiently churn through blogs and other websites. But the real tragedy is likely to be felt in countries like Iran, where Google Reader is used to evade government censorship.
RSS readers take raw feeds of data—headline, text, timestamp, etc.—and display that information in a stripped-down interface along with many other feeds, which is what makes them so efficient. (Here is the RSS feed for Quartz.) Less obvious is how many RSS readers, including Google’s, serve as anti-censorship tools for people living under oppressive regimes. That’s because it’s actually Google’s servers, located in the US or another country with uncensored internet, that accesses each feed. So a web user in Iran just needs access to google.com/reader in order to read websites that would otherwise be blocked.
And, indeed, Google Reader has long been accessible in Iran, where it is the most popular RSS reader. Iran would probably have to block all of Google and its many popular services in order to keep its citizens from using Reader. YouTube, by contrast, is easier to censor, though it is also owned by Google, because the video site is located on its own domain, youtube.com. Reader is also harder, though not impossible, to block because it uses more secure technology known as HTTPS.