Thursday 3 July 2014

Leaks in the Dam: Iraqis Skirting Internet Blockages with FireChat

Creators of US-based messaging app FireChat report they have seen an increase of over 40,000 downloads in Iraq in June, when the Iraq government blocked access to internet to slow militant group ISIL (also referred to as "ISIS").  The app uses chatrooms to share messages in areas with poor internet coverage (e.g., airplane and underground train operators) building upon phone-to-phone connectivity.  Given the increase in Iraq-based users, almost a tenth of the app's active chat rooms are facilitated by users in Iraq.
Financial Times describes the app's technology as well-suited for a situation like that in Iraq.
"FireChat, developed by start-up Open Garden, allows access to messaging where getting on the internet is difficult, most prominently where governments are trying to control dissent by forcing people offline. 

"The app features 'mesh networking' technology that uses Bluetooth to send messages from smartphone to smartphone, leapfrogging over other FireChat users’ phones to extend the distances that chats can travel. If one user is connected to the internet, everyone in the vicinity can also use that connection to browse.
Internet users in Iraq are using other means to access the internet in addition to FireChat, including social media networks targeted with the blockage, which continues a trend of users seeking refuge in services that circumvent government-sanctioned internet blockages.  Apps like FireChat and services like SumRando help users in these situations access the internet services they need and without detection.  In times like these, users recognize the value of having safe, accessible products to rely on when the government overrides their freedom to browse the internet freely.

To read more about the blockage, check out our blog on the topic.  To read more about FireChat's uptick in Iraq membership, head to Financial Times.

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