Snapchat and other ephemeral chat apps might delete messages from your phone after they’re read, but as with other texting and messaging apps, that data is still sent through and stored on a central server that’s vulnerable to anything servers are vulnerable to. BitTorrent, the company best known for its peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, says it has the answer to messaging privacy concerns: Bleep, a new chat app that doesn’t need to use the cloud or collect personal information to send messages to friends.
As of today, Bleep, which launched in alpha in September on Android, Windows, and Mac, is publicly available across all platforms including iOS. Like the BitTorrent protocol that enables large file sharing by distributing bits and pieces across a network of millions of users’ computers, Bleep finds users through other users, rather than through a central cloud server.
“The idea is there is no cloud,” says Farid Fadaie, head of product for Bleep. “We have a network of millions of BitTorrent users, which Bleep uses along with its own users, as a distributed database. Everything will be stored among the users, encrypted so users don’t know what they’re storing or who they’re storing it for.”
Fadaie is quick to stress that unlike BitTorrent’s file-sharing protocol, which actually stores pieces of media files across its users’ computers, no actual message content will be stored on the devices of users who are not the sender or recipient.
Bleep uses an encryption-enabled distributed hash table, or DHT protocol, to locate the correct recipient—but “the message is never split up and spread to people who should not have it.” The protocol finds the correct user through other users, and then sends the message point-to-point so that the content itself never crosses through those users.
As a BitTorrent engineering blog post explains: “In essence, the DHT is a web of peers cooperating. You ask your closest neighbor if they know of the person you are looking for. You then ask their neighbors, and their neighbors’ neighbors, and so on. Eventually, you’ll get to a peer (neighbor) who knows the address of the person you’re looking for. They return this address to you. This is done in such a way that only you know who you are looking for. (The person you are looking up would also know.)”
To sign up for Bleep, a user doesn’t need to register with an email address or mobile number; they only need a “nickname” and to identify their country. There’s an option to verify an account with an email or phone number, but only if someone wants friends to be able to find them on Bleep that way. Voice calls are also enabled with end-to-end encryption.
Aside from the technology, Bleep’s biggest features are designed to enhance privacy as well. Users can switch between normal message mode, which will store a message on the local device, and “Whisper” mode, which deletes messages 25 seconds after they’re read.
Even in Whisper mode, potentially incriminating screenshots are minimized–nicknames are blocked out in Whispers, so if a friend decides to screenshot a message before it disappears, the sender won’t be identifiable. And if a user forgets with whom they’re whispering and taps an eye icon to reveal the nickname, the conversation is blurred out.
So as BitTorrent’s marketing copy for the app says, “be bold.” Or, you know, super secretive.