FireChat

App review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
FireChat App Poster Image
Ambitious "offline" messenger can't quite connect.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Created for communication and not intended for learning.

Ease of Play

Functionality is spotty and inconsistent.

Violence

No references to violence, but unmonitored chat rooms can contain some.

Sex

No references to sex, but unmonitored chat rooms can contain some.

Language

No bad language, but unmonitored chat rooms can contain some.

Consumerism

No in-app purchases or ads.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

No references to drinking or drugs, but unmonitored chat rooms can contain some.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that FireChat is a free messaging app meant to be used without an internet connection (no Wi-Fi or mobile data). Using Bluetooth technology and a peer-to-peer network, it enables users to send and forward messages to other nearby FireChat users. When internet is available, it works like any other global messaging app. Users can access open, global chat, create private chat rooms, and send private encrypted texts to up to 50 people at a time. The open chat room is unmoderated and allows users to connect with strangers. When you sign up, the app requests access to your contacts and your location. Read the app's privacy policy to find out about the types of information collected and shared. 

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What's it about?

FIRECHAT uses Bluetooth technology and a peer-to-peer network to create what's called a "mesh network." Users can create local networks within a 200-foot range, and this network can (theoretically) grow depending on how many users are within range. Messages and photos can be sent on- or offline, to individuals or groups of up to 50 people. Contacts are drawn from your email and phone lists. In theory, you can send an encrypted, private message from one FireChat user to another until it reaches the intended recipient, even if there's no Wi-Fi or cellular connection.

Is it any good?

The whole selling point of the app is that it works without the internet, but it's just not quite there yet. For some users, the first thing the app does when you try to sign up is ask for a Wi-Fi connection, which seems to contradict the intended purpose. Add to that the risks of opening your phone up to use a peer-to-peer network (possible information tracking and other interference) and unreliable messaging, and you're bound to be disappointed.

With chat and messaging only working half the time (or less), your only option is to hang out in the "Everyone" chat room, which often -- like most open chat rooms -- contains all kinds of commentary. FireChat's idea for an exponentially huge local network is a good one, especially in times of crisis when people need to communicate and cell towers and internet are unavailable. Sadly, at this writing, the app just doesn't deliver on its conceptual promise.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about chatting with strangers on apps like FireChat. What are the privacy settings? How do you turn off location tracking? Do you want to give the app access to all of your contacts?

  • Discuss apps that require you to recruit your friends. How do your friends feel about getting invitations to download new apps?

  • Think about how a peer-to-peer network could be used in an emergency or natural disaster. How could you use it to help people? Are there any risks?

App details

For kids who love social media and apps that don't need Wi-Fi

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