The makers of Firechat, a wireless P2P chat app that works phone-to-phone over Bluetooth and wifi, say they've seen a surge of new users from Hong Kong's student demonstrators, who are locked in pitched battle with the territory's police as they fight for the right to choose HK's leaders without interference with Beijing, against a backdrop of growing wealth inequality.
Firechat is theoretically resistant to the kind of centralized surveillance that the Chinese government (as well as western states, especially the US and the UK) is infamous for. Phones connect directly to one another, establish encrypted connections, and transact without sending messages to servers where they can be sniffed and possibly decoded.
In response, a different type of social network has come to the fore. The Firechat app allows smartphone users to talk to one another "off-the-grid", in the absence of a mobile signal or access to the internet. By making use of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, messages are spread in a daisy chain fashion, jumping from one user to the next. The system is particularly effective when large numbers of people are congregated together – like at a music festival, or a political protest.
Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden, the firm that makes the app, tells BBC Trending there has been a huge surge in downloads from Hong Kong, as more than 100,000 new accounts have been created in less than 24 hours. Usage spiked during protests in Taiwan and Iran earlier this year, but never before on this scale, says Benoliel.
#BBCtrending: Hong Kong's 'off-grid' protesters [Sam Judah/BBC]