No Internet? Know All About Offline Messaging App Bridgefy

Offline communications app Bridgefy was downloaded over 1.1 million times in less than 48 hours since the Myanmar coup took place.

Last month, messaging apps such as Signal and Telegram surged in popularity in India, after WhatsApp’s proposed update to its privacy policy led to backlash.

According to WhatsApp’s new privacy policy, the popular messaging app will be sharing users’ data with its parent company, Facebook, and its broader network. With users calling the company out and switching to alternatives such as Signal amidst privacy concerns, the company pushed back the policy roll out by three months.

Now, another player, an offline communications app Bridgefy, is witnessing a surge in users in Myanmar.

Bridgefy was downloaded over 1.1 million times in less than 48 hours in Myanmar after a military coup in the country. After losing the general elections, Myanmar’s military seized power on Monday, February 1, declared a year-long state of emergency, and temporarily disrupted internet services.

On Monday, following the arrests of Myanmar’s democratically elected leaders, phone and internet connections were obstructed in many parts of the Southeast Asian country. While communications had been restored later in the day, through social media posts, activists in the country had encouraged the download of Bridgefy in the event of future shutdowns, reported Reuters.

“Hopefully, people will find it helpful during tough times,” the Mexican startup said in a tweet.

What is Bridgefy?

Bridgefy allows nearby users to communicate offline without data network or SMS services. Instead, the app communicates using Bluetooth.

The app was launched in 2014, when founders Jorge Ríos, Diego García and Roberto Betancourt recognized the problem of not being able to communicate during the earthquakes in Mexico City. While Bridgefy was launched as a mobile app, the developers added a software development kit (SDK) a few years later to enable other apps to work without the internet. Currently, the Bridgefy SDK is licensed to companies on an annual subscription basis.

“We built it because we know that the lack of communication can be vital in many places and situations,” Ríos, who is also the company’s CEO, told Forbes. “Most people download it before going to a large music of (sic) sporting event.”

The Bridgefy app gained popularity last year during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. It was also widely used during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in India in December 2019. The app also helped during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017, when most parts of the Caribbean had lost all connection to power.

How does Bridgefy work?

The app uses a mesh network to link users’ devices, allowing people to chat with other users on the app. It requires at least one other user within 100m (330ft). This means that you can share information across almost an entire football field without needing the Internet or any other device.

Even if you are in a different part of the city, Bridgefy can send a message to the intended recipient by hopping onto other users’ phones. When there is a group of devices in the same place, the Bridefy software can connect all devices in that area to each other, creating chains of connected devices.

For instance, if user A wants to send a message to user B who is more than 100m away, the app makes use of other Bridgefy users between the sender and the receiver to send the long distance message.

The image below demonstrates how a chain of devices are created through which the device on the far left and far right are connected.

Bridgefy22
Image courtesy of Bridgefy

Bridgefy is ideal for situations where a large gathering would be present, such as during music festivals, college functions, natural disasters, or protests. However, it only works if there is another Bridgefy user within the Bluetooth range of one’s device.

How to use Bridgefy

While Bridgefy doesn’t require internet to send messages, you would initially need an internet connection to download and set up the app. This is a one-time requirement post which you can easily send messages to Bridgefy users. Here are the steps to use the app:

  • Download the Bridgefy app from Android Play Store or the iPhone App Store. Next, open Bridgefy.
  • You will need an internet connection to set up the app and create a profile. You don’t need to add contacts to the app, since the app automatically detects other Bridgefy users around you.
  • Turn Bluetooth on to send messages, images, game moves, live locations, and more to another Bridgefy user.
  • In addition to a private chat with another user, Bridgefy also allows you to broadcast your message to everyone around you, even if they are not a contact.

Is Bridgefy secure?

“Security, safety, and privacy are priorities at Bridgefy,” the app claims on its website. It uses “top-notch” encryption and other privacy improvements which makes the users’ personal information and messages safe and private.

In the case of private chat messages, the messages can only be read by the sender and the recipient. While broadcast messages are also encrypted, they can be read by any Bridgefy user nearby.

Notably, the end-to-end encrypted messaging feature was only added in October last year. The company has said that it will add more security features in the future, although it has not yet specified what these could be.

“Although we had big dreams, we never thought that Bridgefy would become ‘the app to protest’ for hundreds of thousands of people,” said Ríos. “As the platform grew in popularity and in use cases, the most logical step to follow was for us to adapt.”

Bridgefy is not without limitations, as it relies on a Bluetooth-enabled mesh network rather than the vast ecosystem of the Internet. It also faces sturdy competition in the space of social media.

However, with enough adoption, it can become a powerful tool during network disruptions, especially during times of crisis or agitation. As the trend of socio-cultural conflict continues, and as climate change poses a crisis like never before, this may just be the value proposition that proves indispensable.

Header image courtesy of Bridgefy

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