FireChat, Disrupt alum Open Garden‘s popular off-the-grid messaging app, is getting a major update today that introduces private messaging that can even bridge local network and people can communicate privately, even without an internet connection.
The app would use available Wi-Fi networks Bluetooth and other connections to set up a local network that people could use to chat — both anonymously & with their real names. But can use internet connections when available.
FireChat has become popular with users congregating in large crowds, such as at music festivals and protests, where mobile signals may be overloaded. Previously, conversations via the app were chatroom-based and public.
Now, with this update, it will also allow users to send private messages even if they have to bridge multiple local networks and then hop onto the Internet at some point to get to their final destination.
Open Garden estimates that as long as 5 percent of a city’s population use this service, it can deliver messages between its users with an average delivery time of 10 minutes.
However, no technical details about the encryption technology itself have yet been released. But as far as we are informed, it uses a store-and-forward technique that’s not unlike how old dial-up based bulletin board systems used to work back in the 80s and early 90s.
The messages are encrypted, so other users can’t read them, even if the message is stored on a few of them while the service is trying to find a way to deliver the message.
“Devices run a probabilistic distributed algorithm to build a connected graph,” Open Garden CTO Stanislav Shalunov explained. “This is possible when the density is above a certain threshold. This threshold is easily reached in an urban scenario and in a crowd. Once the network is established, messages get delivered in a way that balances reliability and use of resources.”
“This innovation paves the way for the next evolution of the Internet: networks created by the people, for the people.“ said Micha Benoliel, co-founder & CEO of Open Garden in today’s announcement.
“It is vital, therefore, that claims about security can be verified and tested independently,” he told the BBC.
FireChat currently has six million users and Daligault says that individuals who form the connection points in the network can be as far as 200 feet apart and still send and receive data without web access.