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Marketing Agency Uses Homeless As Wi-Fi Hotspots 267

Posted by samzenpus
from the some-ideas-are-better-than-others dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Marketing agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) has launched a controversial charity scheme at this year's South by Southwest festival, in which homeless people are being used to provide Wi-Fi hotspots. The project, Homeless Hotspots, seeks to address people's need for a high-speed data connection at the festival in Austin, Texas, by issuing the homeless with T-shirts that say 'I am a 4G hotspot.' Passers-by may then pay what they wish either in cash or by PayPal to get online 4G networks via the Wi-Fi device that a homeless person is carrying and the proceeds go to the Front Steps Homeless shelter in Austin."

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Marketing Agency Uses Homeless As Wi-Fi Hotspots

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  • What!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tmosley (996283) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:04AM (#39326177)
    Why don't the proceeds go to the homeless person carrying around the equipment!?
    • Re:What!? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:05AM (#39326189)

      Because the do-gooders don't trust the homeless to spend the money the "right" way, most likely.

      • Because the do-gooders don't trust the homeless to spend the money the "right" way, most likely.

        Yet they trust them to carry what I assume is a very valuable device.
        I wonder what the "going rate" will be to "swap shirts". Guaranteed we'll see these hotspot devices (and probably shirts) on eBay.

    • Re:What!? (Score:5, Informative)

      by stating_the_obvious (1340413) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:09AM (#39326221)
      The homeless person doesn't keep the money for the same reason that the cashier at McDonald's doesn't get to keep the money... The profits will be donated to a homeless shelter in Austin.
      • by tmosley (996283)
        Cashiers don't get paid? New one on me.
    • Re:What!? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Luckyo (1726890) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:10AM (#39326233)

      Most likely, taxation. If you paid the person, it would be a job, meaning taxes.

    • by cwgmpls (853876)
      Why shouldn't the organization that provides the start-up capital get a piece of the revenue?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not just taxes as Luckyo suggested, but also labor laws. Suddenly minimum wage comes into the picture as well. So you have minimum wage, FICA compliance (is the homeless man an employee or "self-employed") and similar nonsense. Pretty soon, a homeless guy who might have been content to just make a few bucks and pass a few bucks on to his homeless shelter is getting to experience the joys most of us go through every year with the IRS.

      This is one of the reasons why minimum wage laws hurt the poor. As nob

      • by Sir_Sri (199544) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:51AM (#39326647)

        I'm not sure you are arguing that this is minimum wage laws hurting the poor. You're arguing that having to pay people at all is hurting them.

        Minimum wage only means you have to pay the guy 10 bucks an hour, and not 2, for 3 days. (Or whatever the numbers are at this festival, minimum wage here is 10 bucks an hour). But if you could pay 2 bucks an hour they'd still have all of the other employment questions that have to be addressed (declaring it correctly to the revenue service).

        To argue against the minimum wage you'd need to show how this business could run paying their people less than minimum wage, but can't manage at minimum wage, and then how those people would still be able to live at the price they can pay. When you're on a donation system though (even if the preferred price is 2 dollars for 15 minutes) you don't really know what the viable revenue stream is, and, in this case, because it's for a 3 day festival with the 'proceeds to charity' you can charge a ridiculously large amount of money, but you still have no idea how much take you'll have. It sounds like this is being run as a charity thing because well, it is. 3 days of work isn't going to be enough to meaningfully help someone out of a homeless shelter, no matter how much you pay them. But a few hundred or a few thousand bucks to the homeless shelter can help a lot of people for a lot more than 3 days.

    • by canajin56 (660655)
      They do, RTFA. Summary is wrong, which is pretty typical around here ;)
  • Not a bad idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cwgmpls (853876) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:08AM (#39326219) Journal
    It's basically an updated version of the street newspapers that homeless people have been selling for decades. Micro-business like this can be the first step and getting out of poverty.
    • by OzPeter (195038)

      Exactly .. that was the first thought that I had. It seems that various people in the process of submitting this story don't have a clue of how successful such schemes can be.

    • Re:Not a bad idea (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DaMattster (977781) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:25AM (#39326397)

      It's basically an updated version of the street newspapers that homeless people have been selling for decades. Micro-business like this can be the first step and getting out of poverty.

      This is actually an excellent idea! It could be even better if it were implemented in such a way that the homeless person could eventually become their own independent business owner. It is news like this that we need to hear more often and it is very uplifting to read on a Monday morning. What if the homeless person could eventually raise enough money to buy the device and a kind of franchise right to do business as x? I disagree with using the term charity here. Charity is simply a free gift without any commitment in return. Ideas like these encourage commitment and integrity which the homless person needs to exhibit! The next step is to let them earn the money to purchase the device and become an independent business owner. This can also spur other forms of creativity on the part of the people vending the service like ways to power the devices and maybe design a rolling portable table where people can sit down for a bit. The possibilities are many

      • by SkimTony (245337)

        I can just imagine the lawsuit of the big telecoms against whatever organization was going to provide municipal wifi coverage by enfranchising the homeless, or even better, against the homeless themselves.

        I love America.

        • the lawsuit of the big telecoms against whatever organization was going to provide municipal wifi coverage

          Would these "big telecoms" not be providing the backhaul used here? The interface to users is Wi-Fi, but I'd have thought it was backhauled via the cellular networks to provide the actual Internet connectivity. In effect, the homeless are resellers (or re-casters, perhaps) of their telecom service?

          • Easy. Just invoke the nebulous fair-usage policy. Running a commercial hotspot? Better be paying carrier rates for that backhaul, or expect to be declared a freeloader and charged five dollars for every hundred meg.
            • I guess it depends on whether the hotspot providers were doing so as a partner of the telco, or "just another user" trying to resell the service. I could see a provider looking to sponsor this kind of thing — get their brand out there, and get access to people with Wi-Fi only devices without the cost of rolling out Wi-Fi hotspots. (Even better, since savvy homeless hotspot providers are likely to move according to demand, which makes re-siting Wi-Fi access far easier than needing to move infrastructur
  • by Hentes (2461350) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:11AM (#39326253)

    Giving jobs to those people in need instead of just some spare change is exactly the thing that can help them.

    • by tmosley (996283)
      But this isn't a job, as all the money appears to be "donated" to the homeless shelter.

      Now that might seem like an ok deal for the "worker"/slave, as they help to ensure that there will be a place to sleep with warm food, until you consider that they can be kicked out at any time with nothing to show for their effort.

      Basically, this is micro-Communism. Fuck that, pay them a wage, or let them keep a portion of the money earned for their labors.
      • by canajin56 (660655)

        Basically, this is micro-Communism. Fuck that, pay them a wage, or let them keep a portion of the money earned for their labors.

        How is 100%? Is that a fair enough portion of the money earned? Because that's what TFA says. The Slashdot summary is based on the way-off assumption that when it says "The homeless MiFi manager keeps all of the money they received" that the "manager" is the marketing agency or the charity. It's the homeless person carrying the hotspot. They keep all of it. The agency gets

    • by billcopc (196330)

      Perhaps because the solution to homelessness is rarely "a job". Some people wind up homeless because they lack employment for too long, but those are a very small minority. Most of them have far more insidious issues such as psychological trauma, drug addiction or mental deficiency that simply makes them unable to function within the tight confines of "society".

  • More info.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:17AM (#39326321)

    Suggest you guys check out the actual blog post, answers a lot of the questions asked.

    http://bbh-labs.com/homeless-hotspots-a-charitable-experiment-at-sxswi

  • Exploitation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:19AM (#39326353)

    This is the most exploitative, ignorant, inhuman scheme I've ever heard of.

    He is not a wifi hotspot. He is not a thing. He's not something for you to graffiti-tag to market your shitty pay-per-use wifi. He is a human being, and entitled to dignity.

    If you're interested in helping, do so. Don't come up with some bullshit scheme to allow you to profit at the same time as you pretend to be helping.

    Hey I plan too! Let's use battered women as sparring partners! We'll partner with Golds Gym, give them a t-shirt that says "I'm used to it!". We'll make a fortune off of all the misogynist muscleheads who hang out there. Then give the proceeds to, oh I dont know. We'll make up some "dont beat women" charity or something, make ourselves directors.

    • Just to play devil's advocate:

      A "hotspot" is not a thing. It's a description for service provided (usually by an access point/ router combo). Or rather the place where you can get that service. It's similar to "I am Jon and I'll be your waiter for tonight."

    • Re:Exploitation (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dunbal (464142) * on Monday March 12, 2012 @12:05PM (#39326851)

      This is the most exploitative, ignorant, inhuman scheme I've ever heard of.

      Clearly you haven't travelled much or read any history.

  • by eltonito (910528) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:19AM (#39326355)
    For some strange reason, I really want one of those T-shirts.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:25AM (#39326395)

    Once all the homeless people are put in jail for the torrents that were shared on their hotspots, they won't be homeless anymore!

  • by dmesg0 (1342071) on Monday March 12, 2012 @11:31AM (#39326445)

    The wireless antennas will be placed near the reproductive organs and work at full power on as many channels as possible. All that in order to decrease the future homeless population.

    • by snowgirl (978879)

      The wireless antennas will be placed near the reproductive organs and work at full power on as many channels as possible. All that in order to decrease the future homeless population.

      Yes... homeless people sustain their population by breeding... not by people falling through the cracks...

      • by dmesg0 (1342071)

        First, my comment was a joke. But I wouldn't be surprised if children of homeless people (or formerly homeless) are more likely to become homeless than general population. Some behavioral traits, e.g. alcoholism, are believed to be genetic.

        • by snowgirl (978879)

          First, my comment was a joke. But I wouldn't be surprised if children of homeless people (or formerly homeless) are more likely to become homeless than general population. Some behavioral traits, e.g. alcoholism, are believed to be genetic.

          I suspected that it was a form of joke. Regardless, indeed, the single greatest factor in how much a child will make is how much their parents make, so I wouldn't be surprised that children raised by homeless parents are more likely to be homeless themselves. However, I doubt that a great many homeless people would raise their own children. It's expensive to raise a child, and not a bill that you can just blow off.

          While it is true that alcoholism might be genetic, even if it were 100% genetic, there are ple

  • by tehlinux (896034) on Monday March 12, 2012 @12:21PM (#39327041)
    I know when I'm on the lookout for wifi, the first place I want to bring my laptop is in an alley full of homeless people!
  • Why the worry? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Curunir_wolf (588405) on Monday March 12, 2012 @12:26PM (#39327111) Homepage Journal

    FTFA:

    "This is my worry: the homeless turned not just into walking, talking hotspots, but walking, talking billboards for a program that doesn’t care anything at all about them or their future..."

    I don't get why that's a worry. The homeless are providing a service, which makes the productive members of society, and should provide them with a little self-respect. So what if the program doesn't care anything at all about them or their future? How is that different from the situation that almost every wage slave on planet earth - they're all providing a service for a company that pays them for it, and I don't think there are many employees that are under the impression that the company they work for is doing because the "care about them."

    This program just does for the homeless the same thing that almost every company and government employee does to people: turns them into human resources.

  • ... the great WiFi coverage around all the freeway off-ramps lately.

  • seems legit (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WillgasM (1646719) on Monday March 12, 2012 @12:52PM (#39327595) Homepage
    I think it's perfectly reasonable. This could be a great service in larger cities and especially during events like sxsw. Have a place at the homeless shelter that maintains the equipment and keeps it charged. The homeless person just checks out a fanny pack with the equipment and gets paid upon returning it. In the meantime they go about their daily lives, except now they have a t-shirt and a gimmick. I would eliminate the cash donation part in favor of a premium text charge or being redirected to a donation page upon connecting. You could even serve up ads if that model works better for you. Apart from preventing a rash of homeless muggings, taking cash out of the equation helps eliminate any confusion over who you're giving the money to (Am I giving this homeless dude money or paying for WiFi? Feel free to give the dude a dollar if you would normally). However you do it, the donations go back to funding the program (maintaining equipment, paying the homeless), and anything left over goes to the shelter. Odds of this being profitable would be greatly improved with any advances to make the equipment cheaper and more durable. People get Wifi, a homless dude makes a little money to get by, shelters gets donations, advertisers get to slap a label on it. Everybody sounds happy to me.
  • by paulpach (798828) on Monday March 12, 2012 @12:58PM (#39327665)

    Ohhhhh noooooo.

    Someone is giving homeless people a legitimate simple job that they can do even while they sleep instead of handing them money for nothing. How dare you make a homeless person productive?

    MUST TAG tackyexploitation.

  • Wearing one of those shirts has to be a real chick-magnet.

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