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FireChat rises in popularity among Hong Kong protesters


Hong Kong protesters are turning to FireChat messaging app that is based on mesh networking that can function without network or internet connection. The has been over 100,000 downloads in a day as the protesters find the app as the best alternative during protests.

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Pro-democracy protesters turning to the app as the government may soon start to block internet or messaging services to stop use of social-media sites. The free app can connect with devices through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi that will allow people in a specific area to communicate. The messages can move within a limit of 10 meters and becomes very effective to a crowd of protesters to send messages quickly. The startup has notified users to use fake names as the developers are in the process of encrypting the app.

“The app is fast becoming the de facto standard for any activist organizing protests,” said Stanislav Shalunov, Chief technology officer of Open Garden startup.

The off-the-grid app was developed by Open Garden, a San Francisco based startup launched in March this year and has over five million users. Shalunov stated that he was surprised by the app’s growing popularity in China. Josh Wong, a student activist shared on social media sites to download the app as the network was likely to be blocked by authorities in areas of civil unrest.

The app has been downloaded more than 460,000 times between Sep. 9 and Oct. 4 in Hong Kong, according to Christophe Daligault, chief marketing officer. The company observed 5.1 million chat sessions in the region, though the number of locally created chat sessions could not be tracked. Though internet service has not been blocked, some online services were censored and Instagram was blocked as protesters were sharing photos.

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