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Hong Kong protesters turn to app that doesn't need a cell network to communicate




Pro-democracy protesters gather in the Admiralty region of Hong Kong on September 29, 2014. Hong Kong police said on September 29 tear gas was deployed '87 times' in clashes with pro-democracy protesters on September 28 as they defended their controversial use of force against crowds in the usually stable city.
Pro-democracy protesters gather in the Admiralty region of Hong Kong on September 29, 2014. Hong Kong police said on September 29 tear gas was deployed '87 times' in clashes with pro-democracy protesters on September 28 as they defended their controversial use of force against crowds in the usually stable city.
AARON TAM/AFP/Getty Images

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Mobile phones have been essential in organizing for pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

However, some activists worry that the government will shut down cellular networks as a way to hobble their efforts.

Enter FireChat.

It's an app that bypasses a tower that's down, overloaded, or non-existent by creating its own local network among nearby users.

Some activists are reportedly using the app as a tool to coordinate with each other.

Micha Benoliel is the co-founder and CEO of Open Garden, which created FireChat. Benoliel said he was caught off guard by the app’s usage among activists. 

“It was a big surprise. I happened to be on a business trip in India and I was in-transit in Hong Kong because I was also meeting companies in China, and on Sunday I saw a spike of new users on FireChat, and I decided to stay. Obviously I quickly realized it was linked to the events that were happening,” he said.

Because FireChat allows for public communication with anyone who is nearby, there are concerns about who users could really be talking to, or if counter-activists could sabotage pro-democratic efforts. But Benoliel says he doesn’t think those fears should be big concerns.

“I think the good that the application is doing is much greater. You could imagine that some people tried to spread out some false information, but due to the massive mobilization of the people who are using the application I think it’s probably not happening, or if it is happening it’s at a very little scale,” Benoliel said.