This week, an ad agency (BBH Labs [see: previous stunt]) succeeded at its goal of grabbing headlines (see: Pitchfork and Wired) by employing homeless people as mobile WiFi hotspots for SXSW. While the scheme purports to be an attempt at “charitable innovation;” it is, in reality, a stunning expansion of neoliberal economic principles by turning exploitation into a feel-good sport.
The scheme distributes MiFi devices capable of sharing 4G connectivity to passersby. The homeless workers wear shirts that state “I’m [name], a 4G hotspot” and list the directions for connecting. Users must text the name of the homeless workers that they have encountered to a particular number and they then receive login credentials and a convenient link to a website that touts the benevolence of the ad agency responsible for helping both the user and the poor homeless person in front of them.