Russians Rallying Against Putin Using FireChat Messaging App
According to reports, FireChat is becoming one of the most popular iPhone and Android apps on the market, utilized mostly by protestors across the world. FireChat is a messaging app that allows users to communicate with each other simply by organizing near one another, rather than relying on a network or WiFi connection. As history shows in Hong Kong, North Korea and Syria, governments often take down internet access at a sign of true rebellion.
FireChat In Russia
In Russia, downloads of the messaging app are spiking as they use FireChat to organize anti-Vladamir Putin rallies. According to Bloomberg reports, while opposition leader Alexey Navalny live-tweeted a house-arrest violation he underwent, he was also organizing protests with supporters on FireChat.
Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin passed legislation punishing activity that the government deemed extremist over the internet. The punishment for extreme dialogue online is as long as five years for the accused offender, prompting Navalny to use FireChat as an alternative for of communication.
Navalny was previously detained for breaking his court-ordered house arrest to go protest against Putin and his internet oppression.
“The fact that they’ve detained me means just one thing, that there will be one less person for them to arrest,” Navalny said on his Twitter account after he was held. “They can’t detain all of us.”
Navalny currently has 16,000 followers on FireChat, and the San Francisco app developers, Open Garden, have verified his account.
Who Else Is Using FireChat?
During the Occupy Hong Kong protests in October, protestors were using FireChat to organize as well.
“We were pretty much forced to use it almost at the start of the protests because there were just so many people in the protest areas, it made the cell network so slow,” Pamela Lam, an ‘Occupy Central’ pro-democracy activist said to CNN.
“FireChat doesn’t need data to work — a lot of people were downloading it.”
Eventually, the protests funneled out but at the time protesters were able to organize over FireChat and practice consistent messaging.
How Does FireChat Work?
The messaging social network functions by using WiFi and Bluetooth connection. The CEO of Open Garden, Micha Benoliel, went on RT earlier this year and explained succinctly how the app works.
“Basically when you have FireChat installed on your smartphone, if your smartphone cannot connect to a cell tower or cannot connect to the Wi-Fi hotspots, it will use the wireless radios in the phone, the Bluetooth or Wifi to connect directly to the smartphones around and that way your messages can be spread out through daisy chain of smartphones, which is created through the technology we developed for 3 years in Open Garden, called peer-to-peer mesh networking.”
If more people use FireChat in the area, the app uses everyone’s phones to deliver messages like stepping stones.
FireChat isn’t the only mesh networking app on the market though; Russian-developed app Telegram is one that was used in South Korea after the government announced an internet crackdown as well. Telegram offers features like self-destructing messages, used to delete messages after a certain period.
Kim Dotcom also announced a messaging service, rumored to be called MegaChat, through his company Mega. The video messaging service will supposedly be fully encrypted as Dotcom does not believe messaging through apps like Skype is safe from the NSA.
Photograph from Wikimedia Commons; other images from Shutterstock.