The big picture: One of the challenges big U.S. tech companies face is that when they want to serve a global userbase, sometimes politics can get in the way. This is why Microsoft, for example, has difficulty selling its products in U.S.-sanctioned countries like Russia. Now, Microsoft-owned GitHub faces the same difficulties in several countries, as a result of arguably overreaching export control laws.
When news broke last month that the U.S. was blocking League of Legends in Iran and Syria due to trade restrictions imposed on developer Riot Games, it only managed to disappoint players who were faced with the prospect of having to play at a disadvantage, using VPNs to unlock access to game servers.
As a result of the same trade restrictions, GitHub will now restrict developers in countries like Syria, Iran, Crimea, North Korea and Cuba from using everything other than the most basic features of the service, according to this support page.
The glass half full view for affected developers and organizations is that having your account restricted means you can still access public and open source repositories, as well GitHub Pages, as long as it's "for personal communications only, and not for commercial purposes."
On the other hand, if you live in one of the aforementioned countries, you won't be able to access private repositories and premium services like GitHub Marketplace. Something worth noting is that if you happen to work with export-controlled data, it will look like business as usual as long as you're using GitHub Enterprise Server, the company's on-premises solution.
It is painful for me to hear how trade restrictions have hurt people. We have gone to great lengths to do no more than what is required by the law, but of course people are still affected. GitHub is subject to US trade law, just like any company that does business in the US.— Nat Friedman (@natfriedman) July 28, 2019
The biggest pain point for many is that their GitHub account has been blocked without prior notice and it's not yet clear if the company is doing this through an automated process. In the case of a Russian developer living in Crimea and spotted by ZDNet, the ban was immediate and he couldn't download and back up his data. A dirty but effective workaround for those affected is to make your repository public, so that it can be cloned, but that's about the only option as of writing.
The Microsoft-owned company says that it isn't using nationality or ethnicity to block users, and is instead relying on IP addresses used to access the service and payment history, among others. If you're thinking about circumventing the restrictions using VPNs, GitHub says it's a bad idea and doesn't provide any details about how it will enforce that.
For those of you who think your account was suspended without basis, you can appeal using this form, but mind you that you'll be asked to provide a "government-issued photo identification (ID) from the country where you reside or live."