Massive surge for FireChat message app during Hong Kong pro-democracy protests
Mon 29 Sep 2014
A recently-launched mesh-networking app was downloaded to Hong Kong users 100,000 times in 24 hours after student leader Joshua Wong advised fellow activists that the government may switch off mobile networks as a pacification measure.
FireChat, a mobile messaging app released in March, will default to local Bluetooth networks in the absence of other network connections. Of necessity the protesters’ rush to access FireChat is pre-emptive of any government action, and there have been no confirmations of any network disruptions in Hong Kong during the period of the mass-download.
Wong, 17, is the convener of Scholarism, an activist organisation comprised of secondary and university students. The Facebook post which led to the mass-download of FireChat was shared nearly 2000 times, with the page itself followed by over 200,000.
The young campaigner was among four protesters arrested by Hong Kong police after 78 activists stormed the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region [HKSAR] government’s headquarters. On 27 September in protest against Beijing’s stance on Hong Kong electoral reform. The long-anticipated protest, entitled ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ was initiated by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong in 2013. Wong was released after more than 40 hours of detention, at the instruction of a high court judge.
FireChat co-founder and CEO Micha Benoliel confirmed that the free app was transferred to Hong Kong-based accounts 100,000 times in the 24-hour period covering Sunday to Monday morning.
The FireChat app is part of the larger, visionary OpenGarden project founded by Benoliel, Chief Architect Greg Hazel (formerly software lead on the development of the µTorrent client) and mathematician and internet architect Stanislav Shalunov.
OpenGarden is concerned with the Internet Of Things, and in edge-based micro-casting for devices too insignificant or eccentric to justify dedicated connection, or which have no need to route their communications through a conventional network.
There’s nothing unusual about a messaging system utilising a local network of Bluetooth devices or local Wifi, since RFID networks and other ‘regular’ systems also make use of low-power, limited range connectivity scenarios – and it is only in urban concentrations such as Hong Kong that device density can solve the reach-limits of local connections and facilitate pop-up communities. But the interesting wrinkle on the FireChat surge is that it potentially cuts governmental monitoring out of the loop in a protest scenario – at least on a real-time basis.