Wed, Feb 02, 2011 - Page 6 News List

UNREST IN NORTH AFRICA: Google’s speak-to-tweet service targets Egyptians


Google Inc launched a special service to allow people in Egypt to send Twitter messages by dialing a phone number and leaving a voice mail, as Internet access remains cut off in the country amid anti-government protests.

“Like many people, we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we could do to help people on the ground,” read a post on Google’s official corporate blog on Monday.

The service, which Google said was developed with engineers from Twitter, allows people to dial a telephone number and leave a voice mail. The voice mail is automatically translated into an audio file message that is sent to Twitter using the identifying tag #egypt, Google said.

Internet social networking services such as Twitter and Facebook have been important tools of communications for protesters in Egypt. Internet services have been suspended around the country and phone text messaging has been disabled.

A source familiar with the matter said Google, whose corporate motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” was not taking sides in the crisis in Egypt, but was simply supporting access to information as it has done with other services, such as video Web site YouTube.

YouTube has been streaming live coverage of al-Jazeera’s broadcasts of the events in Egypt.

Dozens of the so-called speak-to-tweet messages were featured on Twitter on Monday. The messages ranged from a few seconds to several minutes, and featured people identifying themselves as Egyptians and describing the situations in various parts of the country.

“The government is spreading rumors of fear, and of burglary and of violence,” said one of the messages from an English speaker. “The only incidence of theft and burglary are done by the police themselves.”

Google’s Twitter service became available as the last of Egypt’s main Internet service providers, the Noor Group, went dark.

The Noor Group had remained online even after Egypt’s four main Internet providers abruptly stopped shuttling Internet traffic into and out of the country on Friday morning.

At about 11pm on Monday, the Noor Group became unreachable, said James Cowie, chief technology officer of Renesys, a security firm based in Manchester, New Hampshire. Renesys monitors massive directories of “routes,” or set paths that define how Web traffic flows. The Noor Group’s routes have disappeared, he said.

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