Update (4:20PM, 22 Nov 2013):
— Renesys Corporation (@renesys) November 22, 2013
In response to recent NSA spying allegations, Brazil is pressing ahead with a new law to require Internet companies like Google to store data about Brazilian users inside Brazil, where it will be subject to local privacy laws. The proposed legislation could be signed into law as early as the end of this week. However, Google’s DNS service started leaving the country on September 12th, the day President Rousseff announced her intention to require local storage of user data.
|Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and one of the fastest growing domestic Internets in the world. If companies like Google feel like they have to stop providing local service in such a significant market due to new restrictions on their in-country operations, Brazilian Internet users and multinational content providers could ultimately both suffer as a result of the new legislation. In all likelihood, Google is taking a “wait and see” approach to determine how to legally provision their services in Brazil. When they do, perhaps we’ll see the return of low-latency, local caches for their freely available DNS service.|
Google DNS in Brazil
As most readers of this blog will know, when you access any resource on the Internet by name (e.g., www.google.com), your computer must first convert this name into an IP address (e.g., 188.8.131.52), which it then uses to gain access to the resource you’ve requested. This conversion process, called DNS or Domain Name System, is typically transparently furnished to users by their Internet service provider. Since December 2009, Google has offered their own version of this service for free to the public, branded as Google Public DNS, at the well-known IP addresses 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11.
While Google DNS provides a public benefit to many, all “free” services ultimately have to be paid for somehow. By gaining visibility into the Internet usage of its users, Google can use this data to improve its commercial applications, such as the placement of advertisements. It is this user data that would presumably make Google Public DNS subject to the more stringent privacy laws proposed by President Rousseff.
However, no one is forced to use Google DNS. As we noted, most ISPs (and companies) provide their own DNS services to their users. For those who don’t or for those users who prefer using third party service, Google DNS is one of several open public DNS services. (Dyn and OpenDNS offer two others.) In Brazil, we’ve read that smaller ISPs often use Google DNS service from São Paulo as part of their services.
Last month, we noticed that Google DNS for Latin America had stopped answering queries from São Paulo and had started forwarding DNS queries back to the US for resolution. We presented this development at NANOG 59 and in a blog post earlier this month about Internet performance. Nobody from Google would comment. By moving DNS resolution out of Brazil and back to the United States, Google DNS now operates outside of Brazilian jurisdiction. It still works just fine for Latin American users, just much more slowly.
Below are graphs of the latencies measured for several locations around Latin America over the course of 2013. Latencies abruptly jumped when DNS queries began getting passed back to the US instead of being handled in São Paulo. (Another lesser known Google DNS IP address, 18.104.22.168, was also moved back to the US on 16 September.)
After others in the region confirmed the change in Google DNS service on the LACNOG email list, one participant asked, “Hay gente de Google en la lista. Podrían aclararnos un poco la razón” (there are people from Google on this email list. Could they clarify the reason [for the change]?). There was no response.
Google did acknowledge the change on September 24th, but did not disclose a cause:
Currently queries to Google DNS from Brazil (and maybe other South American countries as well) are handled by resolvers in the United States. Consequently you may experience longer latency than before. We are sorry about this inconvenience to you and are working to restart resolvers in Brazil in the near future.
When I asked a Google contact if this was a technical issue or a policy decision, I was referred to Google’s public affairs office.
It seems only prudent that upon hearing of the new privacy law in Brazil, Google would begin the process of discontinuing its services there, pending a review of the final legislation by their lawyers. Such a review could decide how Google can restart local services in Brazil, such as Google DNS.
Alternatively, if Google leaves Brazil as they did in China, they could opt to make their local infrastructure investments in another country (Mexico? Colombia?), with privacy laws more to their liking. In addition, this development could spur local competition to Google, perhaps with government encouragement, as we’ve seen with China’s Baidu and Russia’s Yandex. This would not necessarily be a bad thing for Brazil, and the region as a whole, in the long run.