Hong Kong protesters turn to mesh networks to evade China’s censorship

The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, at night, with lights

A massive non-violent display of protestors lines the streets of Hong Kong. They seek reeform and rally to establish more autonomy hoping for a democratic process in the upcoming 2017 election. Mostly students and members of an organization called Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP), they have been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” which stems from using umbrellas to protect against tear gas and pepper spray as officials try to break up crowds.

The Chinese government censors several social media networks such as Weibo and Instagram. Now in the midst of the protests so that Mainland China can’t see what is going on in Hong Kong, the Government is challenged to block the Mainland from a flood of content and pictures. It is possible that if the demonstration continues, the authorities might be forced to cut Hong Kong’s Internet connection or turn off the cellular networks. The protestors however, have been using the free, mesh-networking app, FireChat, which avoids the Internet and allows the ability to communicate with others close by. It also bypasses WiFi service limitations.

Mesh networking apps work on Android and iOS. FireChat uses Bluetooth and WiFi to pickup other users and creates a local network of mobile devices that basically allow all users of the app to communicate. Anyone using the app can talk to anyone else using the app as long as there are other app users in the middle, keeping the route open. As more people connect, the mesh-network becomes more and more resilient. The peer-to-peer communication in Hong Kong has resulted in some 100,000 people downloading the app within 24-hours, according to Open Garden, the developer. If authorities do cut off Internetor cell access, FireChat will continue to be a means to keep everyone up to date. Seemingly,despite the decentralized nature of FireChat, the facilitation of radio jammers by officials could still shut down the network.

Because anyone can join FireChat, it’s likely the government or other security officials are joining in and monitoring what is being said. Given that FireChat is not an anonymous app, how effective do you think the app is?



One thought on “Hong Kong protesters turn to mesh networks to evade China’s censorship

  1. I think the FireChat can be a very effective app because it works independently of internet connection and uses wifi or bluetooth. If internet connection will be cut off by the government, people will still be able to communicate as long as they come together and stand for the same cause. FireChat is only a tool, and it will be up to the people to decide if and how they want to use it. I think in this case, because so many people are aligned, FireChat can be effective. Even if radio jammers will be placed, I believe enough people will find a way to go around the radio jammers and build a solid network of communication.

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