BitTorrent's Chat Tool Now in Public Alpha

BitTorrent Inc. announced on Wednesday that its Bleep chat client is now open to Android and Mac consumers. The company warns that Bleep is still in alpha, so users should expect a few issues and limitations as the client works towards an official beta.

Bleep contains two components: a peer-to-peer platform for communication and a user interface for making calls and sending text messages. Bleep is different than other chat clients in that there’s no central server that stores personal information and chat logs (metadata). All links are encrypted from end to end, as Bleep uses curve25519, ed25519, salsa20, poly1305 and other encryption protocols. Metadata is stored locally on the user’s device.

When the user first installs the client, the Bleep engine creates a private key that can be used on more than one device. Initially everyone is registered as incognito, but when the user decides to provide their name and email address, a public key derived from the private one is created. This key is only used when another Bleep user wants to add the first user when trying to add a friend.

“This lookup is only done once when a user adds a contact. After that point, all lookups (i.e. actually finding the IP address of the contact) is done via our DHT. Incognito users do not register their public key on our server, but they do have to use a QR code or direct public keys to be added as contacts by somebody else,” said BitTorrent’s head of product Farid Fadaie.

Fadaie goes into great detail on how Bleep works, reporting that it uses a distributed hash table (DHT) that’s similar to the one used by the BitTorrent client; both are likely to merge at a later date. He also talks about protecting user metadata, private invitations, establishing a secure tunnel, and using the SIP/RTP interface.

“We designed our protocols to support private communications in a way that is unique to Bleep,” Fadaie said. “There are other messaging apps that are peer-to-peer and have passionate fans. However, many of those apps have oversimplified privacy, equating it with being peer-to-peer. I hope that providing these details sheds some light on why Bleep is truly unique, and can be used as the backbone of future communications.”

For now, Android customers will need to set the app to “Wi-Fi Only” in order to prevent the service from gobbling up data (unless you have an Unlimited plan, of course) and draining the battery. Bleep also currently doesn’t support moving an existing account from Android to the desktop. Communication won’t take place unless both parties are online.

According to BitTorrent, the new alpha allows users to sign up using their email address, their phone number or incognito. Users can also make voice calls and send texts to online contacts, import the user’s Google address book contacts, delete contacts, delete the encrypted message history and more.

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