Fri, Oct 03, 2014 - Page 13 News List

Texting apps essential for Hong Kong protests

AP, HONG KONG

Micha Benoliel, CEO and co-founder of Open Garden, the company that makes the texting app FireChat, stands on a main road in Central district, Hong Kong, yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Just as protesters in Egypt depended on Twitter three years ago, the latest digital tools have become required gear for tens of thousands of people demanding democratic reforms on the streets of Hong Kong.

Many of the demonstrators are glued to the smartphone app FireChat, which lets them communicate even if cellphone networks jam or go down. The protesters just have to turn on their Bluetooth connections within 70m of anyone else using the app to see the messages sent by the entire chat group, creating a daisy-chain effect.

Cellphone networks and Web sites continue to work normally in Hong Kong, although protesters ran into slow network connections this week when trying to use their devices at the same time.

FireChat was reportedly downloaded 100,000 times by users in Hong Kong in just 24 hours earlier this week.

Frances Siu said she learned about FireChat via social media and quickly downloaded it before joining protesters in the city’s tense streets.

“I downloaded it mainly because we are worried the mobile network might be interfered with,” said Siu, a 25-year-old nurse. “I don’t use it much now, but it’s there if I need to.”

Web site developer Amy Ho said she was using the app to figure out where to go and what to bring protesters.

“If this is your first time entering the Causeway Bay protest site and [you] are unsure where the supply stations are, the app will share that information,” Ho said.

Protest leaders, meanwhile, have turned to another messaging app, called Telegram, which depends on a network to operate, but encrypts messages.

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