Marketing firm BBH Labs has kicked up some SXSW controversy for its “Homeless Hotspots” test program. Homeless people have been at the conference wearing t-shirts that announce they are “a 4G hotspot” in order to sell a connection. The seller keeps the proceeds.
According to the firm, the “charitable program” is an extension of another, Underheard in New York, which gave four homeless men prepaid cell phones in order to tweet their stories. In media outlets all over the world and comments on the BBH Labs blog, it has been criticized, with Wired writing, “It sounds like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia.”
And then there are some who support the program, saying it offers the homeless participants the chance to meet and talk with people while making money. Others have asked for the program to be brought to their towns. There’s a possibility it could be coming to New York.
For its part, BBH Labs is sticking to its guns, with Saneel Radia, the firm’s director of innovation, writing that though a lot of the talk about the program “villanizes” them, “homelessness is actually a subject being discussed at SXSW and these people are no longer invisible.”
This goes back to the age-old question: Is there such a thing as bad publicity? And then there’s the question of whether the firm is doing good at the expense of the dignity of the homeless they’re trying to help.
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