Daily Dispatches

Homeless hotspots in Austin

Poverty

A marketing stunt that paid homeless people to carry Wi-Fi signals during the South By Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas, is drawing widespread criticism.

As a "charitable experiment," BBH Labs, a unit of the global marketing agency BBH, gave 14 people from a homeless shelter mobile Wi-Fi devices and T-shirts that announced "I am a 4G Hotspot," paying them a minimum of $50 a day.

BBH New York chairwoman Emma Cookson called the experiment a modernized version of the homeless selling newspapers on the street, but the reaction to the "experiment" was overwhelmingly negative. Wired's Tim Carmody described it as dystopian, saying "the homeless turned not just into walking, talking hotspots, but walking, talking billboards for a program that doesn't care anything at all about them or their future."

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But the "homeless hotspots" didn't seem to mind.

"I would say that these people are trying to help the homeless, and increase awareness," said Melvin, one of the 14 homeless people in the program, in an interview with Buzzfeed. "That's a good side of it, too-we get to talk to people. Maybe give them a different perception of what homeless is like."

Similarly, another participant, Dusty White, told ABC News that he didn't feel taken for granted and that he enjoyed talking to people, being outside, and making money.

The experiment was meant to begin last Friday but rain delayed its implementation until Sunday. It stopped Monday.

Although it has been rumored BBH might bring the program to other cities, Cookson told ABC News that it doesn't have any specific plans to do so.

"We are listening hard to this deluge of feedback, trying to learn and respond, and we'll then consider what is appropriate to do next."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Whitney Williams
Whitney Williams

Whitney happily serves WORLD as web editorial assistant. When she's not working from her home office in Texas, she's probably fishing or hunting with her husband.

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