Homeless men being used as living WiFi hotspots in Austin

It's one of the oddest marketing campaigns we have heard about in some time and some might even say it's deplorable. A marketing company has launched a new program at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. It's called Homeless Hotspots and it involves turning homeless men on the streets of Austin into WiFi Internet hotspots; the men take donations from the public who can then access their hotspot.

The marketing firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty is in charge of this "experiment". The Homeless Hotspot web site equates this effort to street newspapers, which are created to be sold by homeless people in a number of major cities order to support them. The company claims that the money donated for the WiFi hotspot access goes directly to the homeless person who has made himself a wireless Internet connection. The Homeless Hotspot web site names 13 people who are currently out on the streets in Austin that are participating in this program and even uses Google Maps to show where they are located.

As you might expect, the reaction to this program has been polarizing. Time.com quotes SXSW attendee Anniina Jokinen as saying, "Anyone else find using homeless persons as 'Homeless Hotspots' at SXSWi disturbing, dehumanizing, offensive?” There's no word yet if the Homeless Hotspots program will continue in Austin after SXSW nor if it will expand to other cities.

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32 Comments

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I think it is a good idea. As long as they choose on their own to participate then who cares. Overall it will be better for them.

The routers are actually being logged so that any user who uses the hot spot's MAC will be recorded. This also gives the people without a job or a place to live a chance to make some money and get a place to live, that is if in fact they really are homeless.

What's so bad about this? People get wifi, 100% of the money goes to the homeless person who VOLUNTEERED to be a hotspot...

Everyone wins.

Sounds like a great idea. Much better than giving a homeless person a stack of newspapers or magazines that nobody really wants to buy. They're providing a useful service to people and are getting paid for it. Way more dignified than leaving them to beg for handouts.

protocol7 said,
Sounds like a great idea. Much better than giving a homeless person a stack of newspapers or magazines that nobody really wants to buy. They're providing a useful service to people and are getting paid for it. Way more dignified than leaving them to beg for handouts.

Better than having some guy run up to me downtown to forcibly sing a Boyz II Men song, then ask for money too.

It's simply because the public have a twisted view of what is right and wrong. Even if you read the comments posted here you find some quite harsh opinions.

To me it's fine, and another way to get the poor fellas/lasses to earn some money off their own back.

Nowt wrong with that is it, strange to accuse homeless people of being unworthy of manual work...

Look, we're talking Austin, one of the most progressive places in the country. Certainly there is no exploitation going on here. This is undoubtedly a very well-intentioned effort to give wholesome employment to homeless persons.

What IS objectionable is the author of this piece characterizing it as "being used as" to color the story in a sensationalized manner. They could have simply said "being employed as." But that wouldn't have suggested any cause for manufactured outrage, would it?

If they had, I'm sure few of you would have posted your lame sarcasm and misplaced outrage about people just trying to do some good in the world.

To me it's a bad taste that the privileged people degrade other humans through this justification. I mean those that see this as an OK thing, their justification are what set them apart from those who have a heart. For the past few years now, I have witness all of these strange new tests that looks like it was given by well, I don't want to use that term loosely. All I would say is the time is close and you are all being tested.

ok, then let them beg for money and hope for hand outs. In a way, this is giving them a job with under an donation-salary contract clause. Since when is giving the homeless a job a bad thing?

Krome said,
To me it's a bad taste that the privileged people degrade other humans through this justification. I mean those that see this as an OK thing, their justification are what set them apart from those who have a heart. For the past few years now, I have witness all of these strange new tests that looks like it was given by well, I don't want to use that term loosely. All I would say is the time is close and you are all being tested.

Everyone, pick ONE employer, company or business you see or can think of right now. Got it? Ok, ask yourself would they hire a homeless man if he filled out an application for any position in that company. Be it, cashier, grocery bagger, people greeter at wal-mart, etc..

The answer is no. In fact the answer is "Hell No" simply because of the stereotype homeless people have.

This is an incredible idea. It gives the ability to redeem themselves, better themselves and provide something that everyone needs or uses at some point during the day. I hope to see this duplicated in far poorer areas of America.

So let me get this straight:

Homeless person giving you nothing for your donation: OK
Homeless person giving you a crappy newspaper for your "donation:" OK
Homeless person giving you WiFi access for your "donation:" Not OK.

Er. What?

nowimnothing said,
So let me get this straight:

Homeless person giving you nothing for your donation: OK
Homeless person giving you a crappy newspaper for your "donation:" OK
Homeless person giving you WiFi access for your "donation:" Not OK.

Er. What?

the wifi is infringing on the corporations that could of sold you that access!!!! </s>

I fail to see how this is any different to a homeless person standing thee selling The Big Issue or other homeless publication.

They are working, provided a means of earning themselves money, I just don't see how this is 'deplorable' but other forms of homeless work is not.

this story reminds me of a seinfeld episode http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9bSrjv8BDs

sila said,
I fail to see how this is any different to a homeless person standing thee selling The Big Issue or other homeless publication.

They are working, provided a means of earning themselves money, I just don't see how this is 'deplorable' but other forms of homeless work is not.

sila said,
I fail to see how this is any different to a homeless person standing thee selling The Big Issue or other homeless publication.

They are working, provided a means of earning themselves money, I just don't see how this is 'deplorable' but other forms of homeless work is not.


Me neither, and I'm sure these homeless people would kindly ask these people protesting it to butt out of their business... It's better than not being able to make any money surely...

This is a cray idea. I'm not sure it's offensive though. No one is forcing these homeless people to be part of this. They are getting the money from this as well. Maybe it's not much, but its still bettering themselves in some way. They are going to be homeless either way.

Since the vast majority of the permanent homeless are mentally ill (most often paranoid schizophrenics), I honestly don't see very many of them signing up to be connected to "those who are watching us".

excalpius said,
Since the vast majority of the permanent homeless are mentally ill (most often paranoid schizophrenics), I honestly don't see very many of them signing up to be connected to "those who are watching us".

I'm not exactly sure what you are trying to say here? Although I can't say this with 100% certainty, I'm guessing there is no way they could force anybody to do this. So this in fact would mean they are doing it on their own will.

TheLegendOfMart said,
Pretty sad state of affairs when homeless people can only get attention when they are "selling" internet access.

everyone has to sell themselves at something and work why should they not work for money.. This is awesome because they get money for selling something that many people want.. Atleast this way some homeless people may be able to get out of poverty if they work hard.