The App Fueling Hong Kong’s Protest

   < < Go Back

by Alex Fitzpatrick,

from TIME Magazine,

FireChat lets users communicate even when they can’t get online or send text messages.

Like pitchforks and placards before them, smartphones should be a powerful protest tool. But when cell towers get overloaded with traffic or governments decide to restrict Internet access, they’re as good as useless. Both have happened in the weeks since Sept. 27, when protests broke out in Hong Kong over Beijing’s decision to vet candidates for upcoming elections. And yet phones have played an integral part of the continuing demonstrations.

The reason? FireChat, a smartphone app that allows users to communicate even when they can’t get online or send texts. FireChat directly connects users to other nearby users who are within 250 ft. (76 m) via Bluetooth or local wi-fi. More people in range can then join the chat, extending the network. Protesters have been using the app to coordinate and support one another–all without an Internet connection.

In the two days after protests broke out, some 200,000 people in Hong Kong downloaded the app, says Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the company that makes FireChat.

More From TIME Magazine: