Tech Conference Experiment Ignites Controversy in Austin
A March 12, 2012 New York Times article, “Uses of Homeless as Internet Hot Spots Backfires on Marketer” examines a controversial “charitable” experiment at this year’s South By Southwest technology conference in Austin, Texas. In an effort to raise awareness around the issue of homelessness, BBH Labs hired individuals experiencing homelessness to act as mobile Wi-Fi devices for conference attendees in search of internet access. Participants were allowed to keep any donations they received for the service in addition to being paid $20/day.
While local homeless shelter staff and the participants themselves said that they had no issues with he experiment, and even described it as entrepreneurial opportunity for participants, criticism for the Homeless Hotspots program has received media attention across the United States and United Kingdom.
Quoting from the article:
A commenter on the BBH Labs blog offered mock praise for the project, then complained that “my homeless hotspot keeps wandering out of range, and it’s ruining all my day trades!” This exemplifies the disconnect between the tech industry, and more often than not, the general population, and the social tragedy of homelessness in our country.
Critics of the experiment described the Homeless Hotspot program as exploitive.
What is your opinion of the experiment? Is it an innovative way to draw awareness? Or an example of the dehumanization of the homeless? And are there more humane and ethical ways that we can share the stories of homeless people?
Click here to read the full New York Times article.
Click here to go to one of the homeless hotspot webpage.
Click here for an article from Wired that includes a video where one of the participants explains how the hotspots work.