The protests in Hong Kong have been well-documented, with MTR stations being shut down, law enforcement authorities pushing back protesters with tear gas, and general civil unrest spiralling throughout the city. But with the vulnerability of internet-based communication channels like WhatsApp and WeChat to state intervention, the protesters have found a new way to communicate on their smartphones.
Enter Bridgefy and FireChat, peer-to-peer mesh networking apps that are, essentially, ways for users to communicate while staying under the proverbial radar. Both apps can work without any internet access at all—they use Wi-Fi radios and the Bluetooth standard to communicate with other smartphones with the app.
It would seem that the range of these communication method is somewhat limited: up to 100m. But according to Bridgefy, users can still communicate with other users that are outside the 100m range, so long as there are other Bridgefy users in between them.
As for FireChat, the range is slightly shorter, but it basically works in the same way.
As a result, both apps have seen huge rises in popularity, which is probably due to the protests in Hong Kong. Forbes reports that Bridgefy has seen a 4000% increase in app downloads in the past 2 months, while the app has jumped from #973 to #6 on the Apple App Store (as of September 1, 2019). On the Google Play Store, it’s now ranked at #2. FireChat has seen a similar jump in its rankings, as well.
The wave of protests in Hong Kong initially stemmed from the extradition bill that has since been withdrawn by embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam. However, the concession of only one of the protesters’ five demands has been met with general derision. The remaining demands are as follows:
- An independent probe into the use of force by police
- Amnesty for arrested protesters
- A halt to categorising the protests as riots
- Implementation of universal suffrage
We’ll certainly have to wait and see how the whole situation turns out, but for now, it seems that technology is playing a huge role in pro-democracy movements.