Iraqis flock to FireChat app as web censorship rises

26/06/2014

More than 40,000 Iraqis downloaded FireChat last weekend, as growing political turmoil and web censorship in the country has lead to users embracing a 'private internet' where they can message each other without fear of the government shutting down access to the web.

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Firechat works as a peer-to-peer app that doesn't need a central server. The network is created by linking multiple phones together via Bluetooth in a chain-like form, to send data without needing connection to the internet.

It was originally designed to combat the difficulty of messaging in areas with poor mobile phone reception.

Since June 14, FireChat has been downloaded more than 40,000 times in Iraq, according to Open Garden, which developed the app. Before that, the app had been downloaded a total of 6,600 times there.

"Your phone today, your smartphone, not only has a radio to connect to a cell tower, but it also has other radios like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, to connect to other devices around," explains OpenGarden co-founder Micha Benoliel. "And when smartphones are next to each other with Firechat, they directly interconnect."

Iraq is currently the second-most active country on the service by daily usage after the U.S.
Iran, another nation familiar with Internet censorship, is ranked third.

On Monday, a new version of the app, released as Firechat <3, or "Firechat Love", merges the Android and iOS versions into one cross-compatible app, expanding that mesh still further.

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