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FireChat Keeps Hong Kong Protesters Communicating
By: Jessica Cherok
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China is notorious for controlling the media, and the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong are being no less censored. However, many protesters are using the app FireChat to communicate and coordinate.

Twitter, Instagram, and others have been blocked in Hong Kong and in mainland China, resulting in 100,000 downloads of FireChat in the last 24 hours alone. With spotty and slow cell service, FireChat is appealing in that you need only be within 70 feet of another app user in order to communicate.

However, there is one major flaw in FireChat: it’s completely public. The app has no encryption, so every message posted is viewable to anyone. That isn’t a big deal for people using it in countries where speaking out against the government isn’t a crime, but in China the public nature of the messages is a real problem.

FireChat’s creators, Open Garden, have said they are working on encryption for the app, but it isn’t available yet. They are encouraging app users in Hong Kong to avoid using their real names, and to be aware that the messages are not private.

Still, the privacy concerns don’t seem to be deterring too many users. As the Chinese government blocks ISPs, the fact that FireChat doesn’t need a connection to work has only fueled its popularity among protesters.

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About the Author
Jessica Cherok is an advocate for online privacy, campaigning for ethical data practices and the protection of personal privacy.
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