Good idea or exploiting the homeless?
AUSTIN, Texas ? A charitable marketing program that paid homeless people to carry Wi-Fi signals at South By Southwest has drawn widespread debate at the annual Austin conference and around the country.
BBH Labs, a unit of the global marketing agency BBH, gave 13 people from Austin's Front Steps Shelter mobile Wi-Fi devices and T-shirts that announced "I am a 4G Hotspot." The company paid them $20 up front and a minimum of $50 a day for about six hours work, said Emma Cookson, chairwoman of BBH New York.
She called the experiment a modernized version of homeless selling street newspapers. All of the money paid for Wi-Fi ? an often difficult thing to find at SXSW ? went to the participants, who were selected in partnership with Front Steps. ($2 was the recommended donation for 15 minutes of use.)
But many have called the program exploitive. Wired.com wrote that it "sounds like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia." Technology blog ReadWriteWeb called it a "blunt display of unselfconscious gall." The topic became one of the most popular in the country on Twitter by Tuesday.
Critics have claimed the experiment turned homeless people into inanimate objects for the benefit of well-heeled techies. In an online op-ed, The Washington Post wondered "Have we lost our humanity?"