'Homeless Hotspots' Controversial at SXSW

Is this offensive, or is it a great opportunity?

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"Clarence" works as a "Homeless Hotspot." (Entrepreneur.com)

Slate reports that at the South by Southwest tech conference this week, New York-based advertising agency BBH Labs introduced a trial run of its new project, called "Homeless Hotspots."

Here's how it works: Homeless people from a local shelter walk around carrying MiFi devices (techspeak for mobile WiFi hotpots) and wearing T-shirts with this message:

I’M [FIRST NAME],
A 4G HOTSPOT
SMS HH [FIRST NAME]
TO 25827 FOR ACCESS
www.homelesshotspots.org

From Slate:

Those who wish to connect to the 4G network offer a donation that goes directly to the homeless person. BBH Labs recommends a $2 donation per 15 minutes of use -- which can be paid through PayPal -- but leaves the ultimate payment up to each Internet user.

BBH Labs has described the program as a possible auto-entrepreneurship project akin to programs in which homeless persons sell locally produced street papers, only better. "We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity," the company wrote on its blog.

But the program, which BBH reiterated on Monday was meant only as an experiment during the tech show, has faced plenty of scrutiny in the blogosphere. BuzzFeed writes that the controversy, which largely centered around the ethics of using humans as walking commodities, even earned its own Twitter hashtag on Sunday night, with one angry Twitter user asking whether anyone else thought using homeless people as wireless hotspots was "disturbing, dehumanizing, offensive?"

Is this a brilliant idea that creates opportunity, or does something about turning humans into hostspots rub you the wrong way?

Read more at Slate.

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