A plan to turn homeless people into 4G hotspots has digitalphiles at the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin crying "exploitive" and "dystopian." In a nutshell, a marketing company wants homeless people to carry MiFi devices that would enable passersby to get online when their carrier service won't suffice, the Houston Chronicle reports. Customers who use the hotspot would fork over what they can—a couple of dollars, say. But would this help the homeless, or callously turn them into human modems?
Much of the reaction is negative. "The digital divide has never hit us over the head with a more blunt display of unselfconscious gall," writes Jon Mitchell at ReadWriteWeb. The BBC quotes a blogger who cringed, "You are priming an affluent, iPad-toting public to think of that person as a commodity." The company behind the concept, Bartle Bogie Hegarty, concedes that "there’s an insane amount of chatter about this ... [that] certainly villainizes us," but argues on its website that it wouldn't profit from this (while the homeless would). The plan could also lead to the company's ultimate goal: helping homeless organizations create online content.