Protesters in Hong Kong are said to be increasingly using a Bluetooth-based messaging app called Bridgefy to communicate with each other.
The move is designed to make it harder for Chinese authorities to intercept and disrupt messaging during the ongoing street protests.
In June the CEO of the Telegram messaging app said it had been targetted by a “powerful” cyber attack. Telegram was knocked offline by a massive DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack, and CEO and founder of Telegram Pavel Durov pointed the finger of blame straight at China.
Hong Kong of course is currently being rocked by protests from hundreds of thousands people, who have taken to the streets at first to protest against an extradition bill that would allow people to be sent to mainland China to stand trial.
Telegram is officially blocked in both Hong Kong and mainland China, but activists are said to frequently use the Telegram app to organise protests in the hope of evading government surveillance.
Telegram is thought to have over 200 million users that enjoy the privacy protection from its end-to-end encryption.
But now the protesters are opting to go offline and not use the Internet, but instead rely on Bluetooth to transmit messages, which authorities cannot block.
As Bluetooth does have a limited range, Bridgefy reportedly uses a mesh network, which links together users’ Bridgefy devices within a phone-to-phone range of 100m (330ft).
This allows people to chat even if they are in a different part of the city, as the message essentially hops across other people’s Bridgefy phones, until the message reaches the intended person.
According to Forbes, which cited data from app metrics company Apptopia, downloads for Bridgefy are up almost 4,000 percent over the past 60 days.
Besides allowing for private chats, the app can also broadcast to anyone within range, even if they are not a contact.
Co-founder Jorge Rios spoke to Forbes of the spike in use in Hong Kong.
“We’ve seen more than 60,000 app installations in just the past seven days, most of them from Hong Kong,” he added. “People are using it to organize themselves and to stay safe, without having to depend on an Internet connection.
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