Controversy at SXSW festival for using homeless as MiFi hotspots

A plan to use homeless people as WiFi hotspots has caused controversy after being trialed at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas.

"Homeless Hotspots" was introduced the festival as a charitable experiment, The Los Angeles Times explains, and is the brainchild of the New York-based digital marketing company BBH Labs.

During the conference, says CNBC, 13 homeless individuals were to sponsored to carry MiFi devices and were strategically positioned around different SXSW locations wearing "I am a 4G Hotspot" t-shirts.

People wanting to use the service, were encouraged to introduce themselves and could then log on to the 4G network for a contribution of US$2 or more.

The BBH website explains that the Homeless Hotspot project was modeled after the Street Newspapers created and sold by homeless individuals.

"We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity," the website states. “Our system is built to encourage interaction with these people."

However, the Globe and Mail says the initiative was "slammed" by many of the conference goers. 

"It is a neat idea on a practical level, but also a little dystopian. When the infrastructure fails us… we turn human beings into infrastructure?" wrote David Gallagher in the New York Times.

CTV picked-up on some of the Twitter conversations generated by "Homeless Hotspots", reprinting a comment from one journalist who said:  "As if the homeless aren't dehumanized enough, they are now being used as WiFi hotspots at South by Southwest."

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