FireChat revolutionizes communication without Wi-Fi

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Prayag Bhakar, Contributing Writer

Open Garden released a new app called FireChat in March 2014. This app enabled Chinese protesters in Hong Kong, among many other major urban areas, to anonymously chat and plan a pro-democratic revolt called the Umbrella Revolution, which started in late September and still continues.

FireChat is an app that sends communications via Bluetooth, creating an anonymous peer-to-peer network that doesn’t rely on the internet. FireChat gained in popularity mostly due to the convenience to send messages anonymously in areas that are censored by the government, such as Iraq and China. The app received more than 460,000 downloads and hosted over 5.1 million chat sessions in Hong Kong alone.

As rumors started to spread that the government was going to cut off their internet access, protest organizers called upon protesters and citizens to download the app. The protesters used FireChat to revolt against an electoral reform which stated that the 1200 member committee would only be elected by business factions. Due to the fact that the protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray, the revolution is named the Umbrella Revolution. As soon as one of the protesters gained access to the internet, all the messages were automatically uploaded online to keep the rest of the world updated.

Freshman Margaret Griffin believes this app was beneficial to the protesters for its intended use during the Umbrella Revolution.

“I think it was useful, in the case of the protesters,” Griffin said. “They were fighting against a controlling government and they needed to voice their opinion against a controlling government.”

To avoid spread of false information, Open Garden decided to start making verified accounts. So far only a few people have been verified, most of whom are Hong Kong-based journalists. According to Open Garden, this will allow people to get a reliable source of information to a very large audience. Open Garden also plans on implementing a private messaging feature, which might include encryption of these messages for the safety of the users. Open Garden says these new features are beneficial to the users.

Junior Sean Balkir thinks that the Chinese government could have easily foiled the protests by leading them into false ends.

“In these protests, for example, the Chinese government could have spammed false information to potentially mess up the protests, which could be a giant setback” Balkir said.

Even though Open Garden has implemented some of these features, cience teacher and Model United Nations sponsor Vasilij Acic believes these cause even more of a threat to the users in countries with dangerous governments.

“I can see where the scary part comes, like if the information gets into the wrong hands, used in the wrong way, it can definitely get scary,” Acic said. “Although, if the app is used just like the protesters used it, not trying to have Big Brother watching, and doing it for a cause that they believed in, it definitely has benefits.”