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Zello: An app for protestors

Demonstrators protect themselves as they protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on February 24, 2014. 

Technology has been a huge factor in some of the big protest movements over the past couple of years -- think Twitter and Instagram in Tunisia, Iran, and Egypt, or Facebook in Brazil.

A new app joined the pack this week in Venezuela, where protests have gotten serious: Zello.

The Zello app allows users to send person to person voice messages among a group, like a walkie-talkie, but on a smart phone. Private messaging systems such as Zello are becoming more popular as protestors realize the drawbacks of worldwide social networks like Twitter.

Zello CEO Bill Moore said that while the publicity the app is getting around the protests is good for his company, it’s not going to directly impact revenue.

"There are 53 million users who have registered for Zello around the globe, and the majority of those users use the free app. We also sell for businesses, a subscription where they use it to replace two-way radio for a private network," said Moore.

The app has been blocked for CANTV users, the state-owned television service in Venezuela. Alexey Gavrilov is Zello’s chief technology officer. He told CNN that the company is taking measures to avoid the blockage:

 "We just released an update to the Android application which changes the IP addresses and makes it much harder to block them, and we also submitted updates for iOS and BlackBerry... So people with Android can already use Zello again in Venezuela."

Moore said the recent use of the app points to an age-old issue with communication.

"It’s an old problem with communication: That it can be used for good and for bad, and there must be bad guys that use Zello for communication," said Moore.

Moore said the company occasionally hears from the FBI or a government who needs help identifying a "bad guy" who uses Zello.  He said the company isn’t able to provide much help because they don’t save a lot of information.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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