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Hong Kong protestors thwart gov't with technology

Posted: 01 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mesh networking? mobile app? FireChat? Hong Kong?

Protesters in Hong Kong are taking their revolution to the next level. Pro-democracy activists, who have taken the streets ahead of Wednesday's national holiday, are using a mobile app to communicate and defy censorship.

Open Garden's FireChat is a messaging app designed to enable a more open Internet. What makes it fascinating is that it doesn't need any kind of centralised cellular or Wi-Fi network for local chat. According to MIT Technology Review, the app allows phones to connect to one another directly using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi as an alternative to the Internet. If you're using FireChat, its "nearby" chat room lets you exchange messages with other users within 30 metres without sending data via your cellular provider.

In Hong Kong, activists from the Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) organisation are using the app to thwart the Chinese government, which has blocked and censored several social media sites so that mainland China can't see what's going on in the region. The protesters are asking for a fully democratic process in the 2017 leadership election.

Mesh networking

The app makes use of a feature in Apple's iOS7 mobile software, called multi-peer connectivity or mesh networking, which enables data to hop between two devices that are out of range of each other via intermediary devices. This means that as more and more people connect, like in the case of the ongoing protest in Hong Kong, the mesh network becomes more and more resilient.

The government has yet to completely cut off Internet access and cellular connectivity in Hong Kong, but according to ExtremeTech, FireChat could become a good way for Occupy Central members to lower the chances of authorities listening to their communications. Still, if China completely shuts down the Internet and cell access, the app itself won't be able to solve the problem, unless someone in the network provides an alternate route to the global Internet.

- Jasmine Solana
??EE Times Asia

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