"Homeless Hotspots" organizers are defending their marketing plan, saying it was done with only the best of intentions for the participants.
As reported earlier, a controversial event at SXSW this year was the marketing plan by BBH Labs, which paired homeless participants with a MiFi device that allowed them to sell minutes of broadband use to attendees. The company claims they are only interested in creating entrepreneurial employment for the homeless, in much the same way newspaper publishers have done in the past. The only problem with newspapers, BBH says, is that it is an antiquated form of media. After the success the company had with its "Underheard In NY" program last year, in which homeless individuals were given access to their own Twitter accounts, they decided to try something similar this year:
"Since then, we’ve stayed interested in the homeless issue. One particular aspect we find intriguing is Street Newspapers, which are print publications created and sold by homeless populations as a form of entrepreneurial employment. The model has proven successful enough to be adopted in cities spanning 30 countries. The issue however, is that like any print publication, these newspapers are under duress from the proliferation of digital media. How often do you see someone “buy” a paper, only to let the homeless individual keep it? This not only prevents the paper from serving as a tool for the individual to avoid begging, but it proves how little value people actually place on the publication itself. Yet the model isn’t inherently broken. It’s simply the output that’s archaic in the smartphone age. So we decided to modernize it."
But the plan has drawn quite a bit of fire from around the web, being labeled as everything from demeaning to dehumanizing. A writer for ReadWriteWeb.com served a particularly scathing review of the marketing stunt, saying The digital divide has never hit us over the head with a more blunt display of unselfconscious gall."
BBH's Saneel Radia said in the company's blog post that the article is both "unresearched" and "incorrect", although the organizers "welcome educated critiques".