Hong Kong Protesters Are Communicating Via A Mobile App That Doesn’t Actually Use The Internet

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters are taking to the streets of Hong Kong ahead of a national holiday on Wednesday, and they’re using a messaging app to keep in touch and defy censorship.

FireChat is a messaging app built by the San Francisco-based company Open Garden, which creates products facilitating a more open, decentralized internet. What makes the app fascinating is that it doesn’t require the internet for local chat, instead allowing people to connect via Bluetooth.

When you first download FireChat, the app doesn’t let on that it has become a hub for pro-democracy protesters around the world. Instead, the app suggests that you use it to share photos from concerts or music festivals.

FireChat screenshot

After joining FireChat, you’ll see a list of suggested chat rooms, sorted by their popularity.

FireChat screenshot list of chat rooms

FireChat isn’t just about political discussion and protests in Hong Kong; it’s also frequently used to share pornography.

FireChat screenshot

But once you get past the suggested groups, the app’s main menu shows that the English-language Occupy Central chat room, one of the groups used to communicate with protesters in Hong Kong, is one of the most popular parts of the app. Inside the room, people trade information on government censorship and where the protests are happening.

FireChat screenshot showing Occupy Central chat room blurred names

FireChat has become popular in Hong Kong thanks to its clever feature that uses Bluetooth to let you communicate with other people without an internet connection. Because the Chinese government is clamping down on what people can say on social networks like Weibo, FireChat’s local chat groups mean that protesters can communicate without fear of censorship.

FireChat screenshot showing empty nearby chat

If you open up FireChat in the middle of Hong Kong, this screen wouldn’t show an empty chat. Gizmodo reports, citing a statement from Open Garden, that the app gained 100,000 new users in 22 hours and that 33,000 users were on the app at one time. People in Hong Kong are scared that the government will try to shut off phone service, and FireChat could be the only way to keep in touch with other protesters.

FireChat is an example of a mesh network used as a communication platform. These networks work by chaining together devices, — For more information read the original article here.    

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