Discussion Question — Wi-Fi Hot Spots via Homeless People

At the annual SXSW (South by Southwest) event in Austin, TX, techies swarmed the conference in hopes to examine the latest and greatest in gadgets and interactive media.  One of the most controversial displays, however, did not take place in the convention center, but rather outside of it.

Clarence, one of many homeless participants, at the SXSW Conference in Austin, TX.

That is Clarence, one of many homeless people who live in and around Austin (in shelters) that were contacted by an ad agency in order to help with their campaign.   The agency was criticized for asking these individuals to essentially work for the company for $20 per day per person, plus any extra money for the people who connected to the hotspot that is advertised on the individual shirts.

Controversy erupted among the media and public, viewing the situation as a way for a company to take advantage of these individuals and put them on display in a negative light.  Many argued that the homeless people should have surrendered their positions as workers for those few days, and that it was a “terrible idea” and “crazy”.

As stated in the Wall Street Journal video, the homeless people who participated as 4g Hotspot enjoyed interacting and connecting to people, and understood that “the web is the future” and saw it as a great chance to make some money. The participants were “very thankful for the opportunity” and were insulted that people thought they should pull out of an event in an attempt to make money.  They have embraced the attention that was brought to their individual situations and struggles by making national headlines in hopes of receiving more help.

 

What do you think of this, from a business owner standpoint, a consumer standpoint, or a homeless participant standpoint?  Was this the best way for the agency to publicize their campaign?  Watch the video for more details on the matter and please leave a comment!

WSJ Video: Homeless People Turned into Wi-Fi Hot Spots at SXSW

13 Responses to “Discussion Question — Wi-Fi Hot Spots via Homeless People”

  • Honestly, there are so many things wrong with this picture. And the biggest thing for me is the idea of cheap labor. Although I do understand that the ad agency is trying to help those who are less fortunate by paying them, I would love to see the revenue stream of the company after their labor is used. If their revenue increases because of this “cheap labor,” they desire to be payed a hire wage rate. Definitely more than $20 dollars. I am shocked and even appalled that something like this is even happening in today’s society

  • I heard about this on a recent episode of the Daily Show and honestly this idea is ridiculous. The company that employed these homeless citizens paid them less than minimum wage and required them to wear shirts that said “Hi my name is Mark and I am a 4G hotspot”. By labeling them as a hotspot and paying them less than what is legally required, it seems that the company viewed their new employees as less than human beings. That sends the wrong message to society as a whole and it seems reasonable that companies would refuse to be connected to this event.

  • I agree with the two comments above as well. This company clearly took advantage of an opportunity to use cheap labor. The least they could have done is paid these homeless people minimum wage for the hours they worked as opposed to $20 a day. It is sad to see that no leader in that company didn’t recognize any type of ethical dilemma in the way they ran this project and their ads. A portion of their profits should be donated back to the homeless shelters if they make significant money from the advertisements.

  • Dana:

    Thank you for the responses. In the news video, the reporter had stated that the company approached a homeless shelter and collaborated to make this work, so I’m assuming the volunteers knew of their “duties” and the shirts that they had to wear. The company also published individual stories about each individual on their website and displayed them at the conference. Does this alter any of your perceptions of the matter? I’m just curious, I’m not trying to debate.

  • I disagree with the dissenters, I think this is a positive situation for these homeless people. They’re given clean clothing, presumably food and paid money for hosting a mobile hotspot. This gives rise to homeless awareness which all of those who utilizing those hotspots would see. It also gives these homeless people an outlet to talk to people as stated in the blog post and in the Wall Street Journal. These homeless people were QUOTED as saying, “[they] enjoyed interacting and connecting to people…[and were] very thankful for the opportunity.” This sounds like a positive situation where too many Politically Correct people wanna say things like they were taken advantage of. I disagree, because they were given an opportunity whereas before they did not have any said opportunity.

  • I agree with Nick. This is a non-issue. I think it was a win-win situation for the homeless people involved. They were paid above minimum wage for providing a much needed MIFI service to the attendees and their plights were publicized way beyond what was initially planned. Hopefully, some long term employment will result from this exposure.

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  • I actually think this is just not a good idea and to the point where it is just un ethical. The fact that these homeless individuals are labeled as a hotspot is in a way degrading. Definitely not a good idea.

  • This is surely demeaning but I still see how it could be a win-win situation. If a homeless person could get paid for going about their life normally and they agree to the terms, I do not see the problem.

    I don’t completely see how this would work unless the providers were able to reach a large number of homeless people and those homeless were told to roam a large area, but in a concentrated area, I could see this working.

  • Defintely not a win-win situation if the homeless man continues bad habits. If the company were to help them on their feet and learn a skill, then I think it would be awesome. But this is a means of just using and dumping for dirt cheap.

  • This is bizarre and depressing.

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