FireChat launches off-grid private messaging feature

July 30, 2015 19:07
FireChat, widely used in last year's Occupy protests, now allows users to send private messages, which will bounce from one user to another until they reach the recipient. Photo: HKEJ

FireChat, an instant messenger app which has become popular in Hong Kong since last year's Occupy protests, launched on Thursday a new feature that allows users to send private messages in an off-the-grid mode.

Users can now send private messages to people anywhere, even if they are not connected to the internet or a cellular network, Open Garden, the creator of FireChat, said in an emailed press release.

Thanks to its peer-to-peer mesh networking technology and "store and forward" capabilities, FireChat can transmit messages from phone to phone, the San Francisco-based company said. 

When Occupy protesters failed to get online near the government building in Admiralty on the first few days of the pro-democracy movement, many of them downloaded FireChat and started to communicate in an off-the-grid mode.

The messenger was originally created for use at concerts or in rural areas where internet access is limited.

Prior to the latest launch of the "private messaging" feature, FireChat users could only send messages in groups through Bluetooth or WiFi signals within a short distance.

Now they can send private messages, which will bounce from one user to another until they reach the recipient.

As all these private messages are encrypted from end to end, only the sender and recipient can read the private message.

If all networks in the city were down, it would take less than 5 percent of the city’s population on FireChat to cover the entire city with an average message delivery time of 10 to 20 minutes.

Such large scale offline messaging requires technologies such as off-the-grid identity, addressing, routing, encryption and interoperability between operating systems.

"Off-the-grid messaging allows any community to create their own network for instant public and private communications, regardless of available infrastructure and traditional centralized networks,” said Micha Benoliel, cofounder and CEO of Open Garden.

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