Chatting off-the-grid: a useful tool for crowds
You may have read about Hong Kong on the news or on social media these past few days. In a nutshell, there are pro-democracy demonstrations happening in this special administrative region of China. However, I’m not here to write about politics. What I am actually presenting to you is the following application: FireChat. Why? The Hong Kong people massively downloaded FireChat to be able to keep in touch with each other during the demonstrations (The Independent, 2014). So what is special about FireChat? Keep on reading.
What is FireChat?
FireChat is an application for iOS and Android that gives users the option to chat without Internet or cellular connection. It is free of cost and the only requirement is that the person you want to chat with must have the application on their phone as well.
How does one use it?
You can instantly message people that are near you; we’re talking about a 70-meter radius (Forbes, 2014). However, when connected to the Internet, the distance is of course not limited. Besides the ability to work “off-the-grid”, it has the features of a normal chat application. You can enter into group conversations, and send all sorts of media files to each other.
Why should you use it?
During demonstrations, large masses of people gather in a small area, which can negatively affect the cellular networks. The app can help you to keep in touch when you are in these areas. It can be useful when you are on holiday with family or friends to a place where you have no cellular network on your mobile devices. If you are at a festival, it can help you find your friends. If you are in a demonstration, it can help you communicate with other protestors. As one can imagine, there are a number of occasions where FireChat might come in handy.
Why shouldn’t you use it?
There is a privacy concern with this application. The contents of FireChat are made public so users should not share personal details such as their actual names. That is also the reason why the app does not have login or password details (Open Garden, n.d.). However, the owners of FireChat, Open Garden, are currently working on encrypting the messages so this problem will hopefully be solved in the future (Forbes, 2014).
Forbes, 2014. FireChat Prepares Encryption Feature As It Drives Hong Kong Protests. Retrieved from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2014/09/29/firechat-prepares-encryption-feature-as-it-drives-hong-kong-protests/
Open Garden, n.d.. Open Garden launches FireChat for iOS: Chat off-the-grid! Retrieved from: http://opengarden.net/2014/03/open-garden-launches-firechat-for-ios-chat-off-the-grid/
The Independent, 2014. Hong kong protests: Demonstrators turn to ‘off the grid’ messaging app FireChat. Retrieved from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-demonstrators-turn-to-off-the-grid-messaging-app-firechat-9761773.html