Homeless Hotspots Stirs Up Controversy at SXSW

Homeless Hotspots Controversy at SXSWThe annual South By Southwest Interactive festival is underway, featuring presentations on interactive marketing, cutting edge technology, and social media marketing from industry leaders. One of the biggest news stories to come out of the conference this year is the “Homeless Hotspots” initiative. As part of a charitable marketing program, advertising agency BBH New York paid 13 people from a homeless shelter to wear mobile Wi-Fi devices and T-shirts that read “I am a 4G Hotspot.” The homeless people were strategically placed around the city of Austin during SXSW Interactive to offer 4G internet access to festival attendees. Attendees were encouraged to donate $2 for every 15 minutes they spent online. Donations were collected via PayPal and all proceeds went directly to the person at that “Homeless Hotspot.” Users who visited the website could track the location of each homeless hotspot and learn some information about the person wearing it. The program was intended to be a modernized version of the Street Newspaper model, a newspaper created and sold by homeless people for their benefit.

The Homeless Hotspots test program has stirred a huge amount of controversy, with many calling the stunt degrading, exploitive, and dehumanizing of the homeless. Wired.com wrote that the initiative “sounds like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia,” while The Washington Post asked, “Have we lost our humanity?”

Chairwoman of BBH New York Emma Cookson says the Homeless Hotspots programs made more money than anticipated and it “gives a personal interaction, a connection for homeless people with regular folks with whom they don’t often connect and get walked past.” Although many questions have been raised and there are no current plans to continue the program, Cookson calls it “a big success just in terms of getting attention for the issue and getting debate going.”

What do you think about the Homeless Hotspots initiative? Is it helping the homeless with some form of revenue, or just plain insulting? What better ways can technology be used for good? Let Blue Interactive Agency know your thoughts here!