Coursera blocks access in sanctioned countries

Online learning platform suddenly has to comply with federal export regulations

Coursera, the popular online education platform founded by two Stanford University computer science professors, recently blocked access to users in Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria in order to comply with federal regulations that prohibit massive open online courses (MOOCs) in sanctioned countries.

Coursera became aware of the regulations in January and soon thereafter instituted the restrictions. Certain U.S. export control regulations prohibit U.S. businesses from offering services to users in countries subject to economic and trade sanctions.

"Since Coursera came to the understanding that aspects of the course experience might be considered services (and could therefore subject be to export sanctions) we have blocked access to students in sanctioned countries," Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng wrote in an email.

He said that previously, the company "did not have a clear answer" on whether online course offerings would be categorized as services and treated as such.

Since then, the company has been "working closely" with the Office of Foreign Assets Control to secure permissions to permanently reinstate site access, Ng said.

Syrian users' access was fully restored after the state department alerted Coursera that the company falls under an exception that permits certain services in support of nongovernmental organizations' activities in Syria, particularly those that increase educational access.

To comply with the export regulations, Coursera implemented an IP address block that prevents users in sanctioned countries from logging into their accounts. A message will pop up explaining the blockage.

A blog post on Coursera's website on the topic says that in "rare instances," users with IP addresses bordering on but not geopolitically within the boundaries of Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria have also been affected. Coursera engineers are working to mitigate this issue, the post reads.

"We have been moved by the stories we've heard from students in the affected countries and others around the world whose lives have been impacted by Coursera," Ng said. "Providing access to education everywhere is at the core of our mission, and we are very sorry to have had to block access to some of the students who face the greatest challenges in pursuing an education."

Ng launched Coursera with Daphne Koller, also a Stanford graduate, in 2012.

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Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2014 at 8:49 pm

It was only a matter of time before education would become a sufficiently valuable commodity that it would come under some sort of government regulation—in one county, or another, or all countries.

Of course, one does have to wonder why an American company would want to give away key technological knowledge, and expertise, to a world that will only use that information to compete with the US, even to the point of initiating military conflict with this country.

As noble as the idea of free education for the world—there are going to be consequences that companies like Coursea will not be able to predict, nor mitigate, once their gift of knowledge has been put to some untoward purpose.

Like this comment
Posted by Mohammad Xing Smith
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2014 at 4:41 am

[Portion removed.]

Remember that first and foremost you are a product of your environment; freedom of information is the catalyst to a united, empathetic and tolerant single race of human. Any company whose mission is to provide free education to all should not be regarded as an 'American company' but as a human or world organisation. For the fact that it happens to have originated in America you should be truly proud.

Take time to examine your perspective and influences carefully and be mindful of the power and influence of your words. I will be sure to do the same.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2014 at 10:54 am

Cousera is a truly admirable game changer. It not only spreads knowledge and American influence around the globe to lift the whole boat to a higher level, but also mitigates expenses and student loans for higher education. It will make the world insanely great. Salute to Ng and Koller.

Like this comment
Posted by The Equalizers
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 7, 2014 at 5:27 pm

One would think that mass education could and would rise above the stupidity and limits of governments. After all, people should not be defined by their government, which is usually defective somehow.

Education is a human right, and denying it to people who want and need it is a violation of rights. Sad that there are so many Eejits in positions of power and wealth.

Like this comment
Posted by BILL GATES
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Freedom of information is a human right as much as Free speech, Free vote. Free assembly.

Free access is what """ Free university """ is a human right for all 7 billion people.


US must spend 100-300 billion per year on education.

With all this money, build 1-10 university, colleges in the cloud.


By 2020, all 7 billion people will have free/cheap acess to internet.

2020: Free or cheap internet access for 7 billion people on earth

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