Given China’s strict censorship, it was actually surprising that Instagram had been allowed to be used in the country for quite a while, despite the fact that its parent company Facebook had been banned. Well that was until recently where China decided to ban Instagram from mainland China following the protests in Hong Kong. Well now it seems that if China will ever decide to ban the use of cellphones in Hong Kong to attempt to quell protesters, it could be a fruitless exercise, thanks to the use of FireChat.
Micha Benoliel came to Hong Kong for a convenient layover between a technology conference in India and strategic partnership meetings in China. He stayed for the political unrest. Mr. Benoliel, a 42-year-old French-born entrepreneur, is the chief executive of Open Garden, a Silicon Valley start-up whose innovative, barely six-month-old app, FireChat, has become the rage in Hong Kong during the pro-democracy protests around the city. The idea behind FireChat is to enable smartphones to speak directly to each other — whether or not there is a working cellular or Wi-Fi connection — through the small Bluetooth or Wi-Fi radios in the phones themselves. To the tech-savvy democracy protesters in Hong Kong, FireChat has offered the potential to stay connected and organized even if the authorities shut down cellphone service.