Iran denies calling Zuckerberg to court

Despite earlier reports, it appears Facebook's CEO will not be called to court in Iran to answer questions on user privacy.

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Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg James Martin/CNET

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg may not have actually been summoned to an Iranian court, despite earlier claims, according to a new report.

IRNA, the official news agency in Iran, said that Zuckerberg won't be required to appear in court to answer questions about privacy concerns on WhatsApp and Instagram, the Associated Press reported. Shiraz Chief Prosecutor Ali Alghasimehr told IRNA that while investigations are underway regarding Instagram and WhatsApp, the services have not yet been banned in the country and Zuckerberg won't yet be required to answer questions on privacy, according to the report.

That's a much different refrain than the one that came out of Iran on Tuesday. AP reported that a judge in southern Iran had demanded Zuckerberg sit in his court and be questioned on claims that Instagram and WhatsApp were invading the privacy of Iranians. A statement issued by Ruholla Momen-Nasab, an Iranian Internet official, cited the court's ruling, saying that "the Zionist director of the company of Facebook or his official attorney must appear in court to defend himself and pay for possible losses."

It's not clear why there's a different story on Wednesday, but it might have had something to do with Iran's control over the media. The original news story came from the ISNA news agency, which is partly, but not entirely, controlled by the government. The ISNA report cited the judge, whose name was not mentioned in the story. The official statement from Alghasimehr on Wednesday seems to throw cold water on that report.

Instagram and WhatsApp have become two of Facebook's largest acquisitions. Facebook, the world's largest social network, acquired the photo-sharing Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion and shocked industry watchers earlier this year when it announced plans to acquire WhatsApp for $19 billion.

Whether the claims made against the services are legitimate is unknown. Iran rules Internet access in its country with an iron fist, and it's often difficult to determine whether the so-called "complaints" actually come from users or are manufactured by the government to take aim at Facebook.

Indeed, Facebook has been a popular target for Iran. Earlier this month, reports surfaced saying that Iran would ban WhatsApp solely because its new owner, Zuckerberg, was Jewish. Facebook itself has been blocked in Iran since 2009.

Despite the country's issues with all things Facebook -- or perhaps just Zuckerberg -- its President Hassan Rouhani has warmed a little to social networks, allowing government officials to use Twitter. Rouhani even has his own Facebook page, along with some of his government ministers. He's still unwilling, however, to let Iran's citizens join the social network.

It's not clear what's next for Instagram and WhatsApp in Iran. Government officials haven't said when their investigation into the services will be complete, but it's possible that they could eventually be banned, joining large swaths of the Internet that have also been blacklisted in the country.

CNET has contacted Facebook for comment on the report. We will update this story when we have more information.

 

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