Bridgefy: An offline messaging app gains traction in India

FE Bureau

This year, India has been plunged into and out of digital darkness more times than any other country. On the back of recent protests against the imposition of Citizenship Amendment Act, internet shutdowns became widespread, meaning zero access to WhatsApp, social media, iMessage and other 2G, 3G and 4G-based activities. However, an offline messaging application, Bridgefy has been trending on Twitter for the past few weeks and it has everything to do with #IndiansAgainstCAA.

Considering the protests and internet shutdowns, Bridgefy app uses a mesh system to let users communicate through Bluetooth despite being in an 'off the grid' environment.

Initially, Bridgefy started out as a messaging app that aimed at saving on server costs, which it still does. On Bridgefy's official website, the listed use cases feature capitalist ones (advertisement distribution) and emergency ones (natural disasters), but then there is the unmentioned, but obvious case of a state-wide or national internet shutdown. So, one can understand why the app has gone viral this year in various parts of the world, including Hong Kong during the anti-government protests.

Similar to Firechat, Bridgefy leverages a mobile phone's Bluetooth capabilities to offer internet-free messaging…. think of a WiFi-free WhatsApp. Despite Firechat being more popular and well-known, Bridgefy is helmed for its better stability. One can send texts, locations, natural disaster alerts, payments, educational content and game moves over the platform.

There are three modes in which Bridgefy works. The first is 'one to one' whereby two users turn their Bluetooth on and, within about 100 metres of each other, can privately message. The second and most used is the 'one-to-one long-distance' system where one can communicate with people more than 330 feet away by connecting through other Bridgefy users found in the middle as carriers. The third is the 'broadcast' system, which has also been useful in the Citizenship Amendment Act protests wherein a user can send a mass-message to other Bridgefy users in their vicinity even if the other users are not in their contacts list.

The biggest disclaimer, however, is that Bridgefy requires an internet connection to activate the technology that powers the app. So far, on social media, Bridgefy has not seen any endorsements from politicians or companies and the urge to acquire the app seems to only come from journalists and programmers across India.

The company in its official Twitter handle tweeted 'To our Bridgefy app users in #India: we're trying to keep up with customer support messages as fast as we can', after a growth in customer support messages from India.
The official website of the Bridgefy app suggests that it can be used for offline texting and can be used at the time of natural disasters as well.

According to a statement by the company, messages sent from one person to another through Bridgefy are encrypted, however messages sent through the 'broadcast' chat are not encrypted.

You'll notice that the Bridgefy app asks you to connect to the Internet the very first time you open it. This is done to activate the technology that powers the app, and register your phone number if you choose to verify it. Once you've done that, you won't need to have access to the internet again to use it in future.

Do keep in mind that your phone number can be seen by anyone using the Bridgefy app nearby if you verify your account. If you do not verify your account, your number will remain hidden. Creating groups is currently not supported, but you may use the 'Broadcast' section to talk to anyone around you with the Bridgefy app.

Make sure your friends also have the app installed and have their Bluetooth running. The more people use it, the better it works!