Can’t get Google Earth in Sudan? Try Tor.

If this blog were a reputable news organization, I wouldn’t post single-sourced items, but it’s not, so here we go:

Somebody I know well just emailed me this:

Thought you might be interested in this note that just came in from an aid worker in Darfur (to remain anonymous):

At dinner tonight I just found out that google earth has now been blocked by the govt…so, those of us who had already downloaded it can access it but those who haven’t are unable to view it.

Before the story turns into an urban myth, I’m just wondering if anybody else in Sudan can corroborate this? What is strange about the above snippet is that it sounds like the client download has been blocked, not the data server, and that doesn’t seem like a particularly smart way to proceed (if that is indeed what has happened — wouldn’t the entire domain have to go down with it?). Or perhaps by “downloaded” the person meant “cached”…? Or perhaps it was just a bad few hours for the internet in Sudan?

(Yes, aid workers have access to the internet in Darfur. Dragging the internet there is child’s play compared to ending the crisis.)

BTW, should Google Earth indeed be blocked, you can easily get around it (albeit with a download speed penalty) using the Tor anonymizing tool, as Uwe Hermann first discovered. The instructions look daunting at first glance but it’s actually straightforward: Download and install multiplatform Tor GUI Vidalia, then change your internet connection settings so that both HTTP and HTTPS traffic is directed to a local proxy server: IP address, port 8118. I’m running Google Earth using Tor this very second, and it works fine, though slowly. Still, once the area you’re interested in is in your cache, you’re all set. And to be clear: If you use Tor, no central authority can tell if your data requests eventually end up at Google, so they’ll have to block the entire internet to keep you from accessing Google Earth.